Tobacco Tax, VA Nursing Home Revived in Fireworks Bill Amendments
Senate bills that appear to have died in the House are being revived, so to speak, by Senators. Members of the Judiciary Committee made major changes to a fireworks bill Monday.
House Bill 2646 as approved by the House would allow consumer exploding or display fireworks currently banned in West Virginia to be sold at certain retail locations.
The original bill created retailer fees on top of the sales tax and dedicated 20 percent of the collections to be split between veterans programs, the state Fire Marshal’s Office and Volunteer Fire Departments.
The Senate Judiciary Committee revised the bill to include provisions of other pieces of legislation they’ve taken up this session, starting with a tobacco tax.
The committee’s version includes a 50 cent increase in the tax starting in July of this year and a second 50 cent increase in July of next year. The tax could mean up to $130 million new in the state’s coffers so members began dividing that money between state programs, starting with Sen. Bob Williams.
“Because this is in a fireworks bill, [I moved] to dedicate $2 million of that tax to the volunteer fire departments of the state," Williams said.
For the 420 volunteer departments in West Virginia, that would mean an additional $5,000 per year. His amendment was approved by the committee.
The committee also added a provision dedicating $20 million from the first year of tobacco tax revenues to build a veterans nursing home in Beckley. That project is estimated to cost $25 million in state funds.
Twenty million dollars of the revenue earned from the tax in the second year would be dedicated to building a secure substance abuse treatment facility somewhere in West Virginia.
“I think taking $22 million out of that [tax] and dedicating to certain very worthy sources will actually increase support for the bill," Williams said after the committee meeting.
"Folks who didn’t support increasing the fireworks side of the bill will certainly support the volunteer fire departments and the veterans and I think it will certainly help improve support for the bill.”
The committee also included provisions allowing veteran organizations, like VFWs, and race track casinos to allow indoor smoking, something banned by most local county health departments.
With so many provisions and only a few days left in the legislative session to consider them, Williams warned it could be tricky to get the legislation approved.
“This time of the legislative session every legislator should be nervous. There are all kinds of things happening in both the House and Senate," he said.
"It is a short period of time, but this is a very important piece of legislation. Now, it’s even more important that we’ve put the tobacco tax in it. So, I think it’s one that will get some attention by the leadership to make sure that it moves through the process as quickly as possible.”
Williams expects the bill to be put in a conference committee.