Updated Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at 4:50 p.m.
With a deadline looming for West Virginia’s executive branch to take action on bills passed this legislative session, staff of the governor’s office is making their way through hundreds of measures. By Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Jim Justice had signed some notable pieces of legislation but also had left the fate of other bills unknown.
According to the Legislature’s website, Justice signed more than 45 bills on Monday. That’s in addition to dozens of measures signed during and after the legislative session, which ended March 9.
Included in the bills signed Monday and Tuesday are the “last dollar in” community college tuition grant program (Senate Bill 1), reform to the state's foster care program (House Bill 2010) and expanding municipal home (Senate Bill 4).
In a news release, Justice announced he has also signed House Bill 2538, which provides a banking solution for the state's soon-to-be-launched medical cannabis program.
"I always have, and I always will fully support medical cannabis for our people who are in so much pain that their physicians deem it absolutely necessary,” Gov. Justice said in the release. "I will say, adamantly, I am one hundred percent against recreational marijuana. But we have a lot of people and families out there who are truly hurting and if medical cannabis can help, we need to do everything we can to make life better for those West Virginians.”
Justice’s chief counsel Brian Abraham said the governor’s office continues to make its way through all 294 bills lawmakers passed this session. He said more than half of the total have come in the past few days.
“What has caused a little bit of delay is the delivery is a bit slower than it’s been in years past,” Abraham said Tuesday. “We are confident we will be finished by tomorrow.”
Abraham noted that many bills were delivered to the governor later in the year compared to prior years under the Justice administration.
“This is the normal process that we work through,” he said. “This year has been heavily weighted toward the end and after the session.”
The West Virginia constitution gives the governor 15 days from the end of the regular session, except Sundays, to take action on proposed legislation. Bills still become law without the governor’s signature, if he doesn’t veto them.
Some key proposals, such as an exemption to the social security income tax (House Bill 2001) and a campaign finance reform (Senate Bill 622) measure remain outstanding ahead of the Wednesday deadline -- according to the Legislature's website as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Justice had vetoed only three bills as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Legislature’s website. Senate Bill 61 (adding certain crimes for which prosecutor may apply for court order authorizing interception of communications) was vetoed because of a flaw in the title, while Senate Bill 272 (updating code relating to Commission on Special Investigations) was rejected because the measure put the changes at odds with existing state code.
Citing an already existing surplus in the fund, Justice also vetoed a $53 million supplemental appropriation, House Bill 3148, to the state Department of Health and Human Resources for medical services like Medicare and Medicaid.
Abraham said he expects other bills to be vetoed by the governor ahead of Wednesday at midnight.
“We’ve found several [bills] that have had some technical issues that we’ll recommend the governor veto because they are unworkable in their current form,” he said.
Abraham declined to comment specifically on any of the bills that linger but acknowledged some groups and individuals have contacted the governor’s office since the end of the session to voice support or opposition to various proposals.
“Most of the information that comes into us from interested parties is by phone or letter. We manage that, we compile that [and hand that over to the governor for consideration],” Abraham said. “That is sometimes part of the conversation we have as far as policy.”
Although the regular session has ended, Justice has tasked legislators with making improvements to the state’s public education system. The Legislature’s special session is currently in recess as lawmakers gather information on the matter through a series of meetings around the state.