Live Blog: The Final Hours Of The 2020 Legislative Session

Mar 7, 2020

The 60-day legislative session heads to an end at midnight, and lawmakers are putting the final touches on their scheduled work for the year. While most of Republican leadership's priorities have been settled, hundreds of bills still have a chance of making it across the finishline before the Senate and House of Delegates gavel out sine die.

12:05 a.m. House And Senate Adjourn Sine Die

The House and Senate have both adjourned sine die.

Each chamber has adopted resolutions notifying Gov. Jim Justice the respective chambers have wrapped up their work for the session. 

For more follow up coverage of the legislative session, tune in to West Virginia Morning at 7:41 a.m.

11:20 p.m. Senate Passes $100 Cap On Insulin Copays

With almost half an hour left until midnight, the Senate voted 33 to 1 to send a bill capping insulin copays at $100 to the governor for his signature of approval. 

House Bill 4543 actually started out with a $25 cap, which passed two House committee references and the full floor with 96 delegates voting in its favor. The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee made the amendment earlier this week before the Senate passed the bill on Friday

“Do you want an awesome bill that doesn't make it across the finish line, or do you want a bill that helps a lot of people that makes it?” Senate Health and Human Resources Chair Mark Maroney, R-Marshall, asked Saturday in an interview shortly before the vote. “A lot of times it's a step-by-step process. You can't take too big of a gap the first time. If it needs to be adjusted, we come back next year and lower it even further.”

West Virginia is not the first state to establish a cap, nor is it the only one to do so this year. In Colorado, the state Legislature agreed in 2019 to set a $100 cap for insured consumers. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a similar bill into law in January. 

Virginia’s Legislature agreed to a $50 cap on Friday.

11:20 p.m. House Judiciary Chair Yields Time For Farewell To Legislation At Hand

Following Miley’s farewell speech, House Judiciary Vice Chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, gave a speech to honor House Judiciary Chair John Shott, R-Mercer. Shott is not running for re-election this year. 

Capito referred to Shott as a “moral compass” and thanked his chairman. He also called Shott “selfless, a team player, a Republican, for sure, but not a partisan.”

Shott then took to the microphone, but not for long. 

“You know, I'm looking at the lateness of the hour and — as someone who was a lawyer for a long time before he became a politician — I am sure I could fill the remaining 45 minutes,” Shott joked. “But I know that there are people here who have bills that are important to them.”

Lawmakers in the House then returned to remaining business.

11:15 p.m. House Minority Leader Miley Gives Goodbye From Speaker’s Podium

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, offered his goodbye to the chamber from a once-familiar spot: the Speaker’s podium. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, had Miley take over the helm before allowing Miley to offer remarks to delegates.

“This will always be a part of my life. It's always going to be a part of your lives as well, no matter how long you serve here. It will always be a part of my life, I'll always be a part of its history as you will be,” Miley said.

Miley, who has served in the House of Delegates since first being elected in 2004, served as House Speaker for the 2013 and 2014 session. Miley is not running for re-election this cycle. 

“It's been said before, earlier this evening that you meet so many good friends here. And I'd love to go around the room and say something about all the ones that have gotten to know and I apologize to those of you over the past couple of years I haven't gotten to know well,” Miley said, “But, it really is an amazing body here. I wouldn't trade this for — no offense to you guys who are running for the Senate — I wouldn't trade it for the Senate.”

11:10 p.m. Senate Sends Fusion Center Bill To Governor

The Senate agreed to minor amendments the House of Delegates made to House Bill 4176, adding the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center to state code.

The center gathers and evaluates open source intelligence to track and prevent terrorist activity. It has existed through an order from the governor’s office since 2008. Should Gov. Jim Justice sign the bill, it will now exist in state code.

10:50 p.m. Legislature Finishes Work On Judicial Pay Raise Bill

The Senate has completed action on a bill that provides salary increases for judges of various courts in the state. 

Senate Bill 597 passed the upper chamber on a 33-1 vote and now heads to the governor for a signature. Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, was the lone vote in opposition. 

Under the bill, judges across the state would receive the following raises:

  • Magistrates (currently $57,500): $60,375 beginning July 1, 2021 and  $63,250 beginning July 1, 2022
  • Supreme Court Justices (currently $136,000): $142,800 beginning July 1, 2021 and $149,600 beginning July 1, 2022
  • Circuit Court Judges (currently $126,000): $132,300 beginning July 1, 2021 and $138,600 beginning July 1, 2022
  • Family Court Judges (currently $94,500) $103,950 beginning July 1, 2020

10:30 p.m. Foster Care Bill Heads To Governor

The Senate voted unanimously to pass House Bill 4092, reforming various aspects of the state’s foster care system, after the House added some minor changes to the Senate’s amended version earlier today. 

The bill heads to the governor’s office for final approval. Notably, it provides $16.9 million to the Department of Health and Human Resources, to implement a tiered system of direct payments to foster families, kinship caregivers and child placement agencies.

9:25 p.m. Data-Gathering Fusion Center Bill Sent Back To Senate For Final Step

 

Following some debate, delegates agreed to pass an amended version of House Bill 4176, dealing with the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center. 

Senators voted 29 to 3 earlier today to pass House Bill 4176, officially adding the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center into state law.

The House of Delegates agreed 88 to 11 to adopt a few changes the Senate made. 

Del. Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock, spoke against the bill, citing his experience as a former Intelligence Officer with the U.S. Air Force and calling attention to the lack of transparency surrounding the bill. 

Del. Rodney Miller, D-Boone, is the bill’s lead sponsor and a former sheriff. He told delegates the center is, “not simply a secret spy network against the citizens of West Virginia,” but a group focused on preventing and tracking domestic terrorism. 

“These are people that are working for your safety and your security that you may never lay eyes on,” Miller said of Fusion employees. 

The bill goes to the Senate for approval before it goes to the governor.

9:05 p.m. Lawmakers Finish Work On Bill Providing Medicaid Dental Benefit

The House of Delegates has completed action on a bill that will provide a $1,000 annual benefit to adults on Medicaid.

According to a fiscal note, the proposal makes use of $11 million in state Medicaid funds, which, in turn, will be matched almost six times over with federal funding. Some 300,000 West Virginians will be able to make use of the benefit.

Data from a survey in 2015 by the American Dental Association shows 27 percent of low income West Virginians have poor oral health.

Senate Bill 648 passed the House on a 85-15 vote. The bill passed initially passed the Senate overwhelmingly as well. 

The measure passed with little discussion in the House and now heads to Gov. Jim Justice for a signature. 

9:00 p.m. Senators Honor Outgoing Minority Leader Prezioso

Members of the Senate honored Senate Minority Leader Roman Priezoso, D-Marion, who announced late last year he is not running for re-election. Lawmakers in the upper chamber unanimously adopted Senate Resolution 75 to honor his three decades-plus career in the West Virginia Legislature.

Prezioso was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1988, where he served four terms. In 1996, he was elected to the Senate, where he has served since. Over the course of his tenure in Charleston, Prezioso led various major panels, including the Senate Finance Committee. He became Minority Leader in 2015.

Members of both parties gave Prezioso a heartfelt sendoff by giving remarks before the adoption of the resolution. 

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, shares a senatorial district with Prezioso. Like many of the lawmakers who thanked Prezioso for his service, Beach got choked up at moments. 

“There's a gentleman in our midst today, who we will always know, we will always see his impression on this great body,” Beach said. “I have a lot of great memories in this in the Legislature in 20 years and I'm sure you share that as well, Mr. President. But most of my favorite memories are right here — and this gentleman here from Marion County has been a lot of that.”

Lawmakers of the highest ranks spoke to Prezioso’s character. 

“I just want to say I know Roman Prezioso hates what we're doing for him right now. He does,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael said. “And that says a lot about him. It really does say a lot about him because he's humble and he wants to be a public servant — and he doesn't want to draw attention to himself. But we owe him this attention tonight; the state of West Virginia owes him this attention tonight.”

Prezioso also offered a few words to the body before Senators presented him with the resolution.

“You just don’t come down here and be a legislator on the fact you were elected. You’ve got to learn from people,” Prezioso said.

8:15 p.m. Governor Addresses House Of Delegates 

Moments after House lawmakers completed action on the budget, Gov. Jim Justice made a visit to the lower chamber. His words were similar to what he delivered earlier this evening in the Senate.

Well, Mr. Speaker, and to everyone — whether you be Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever — you have done incredible work. That's all there is to it. 

You just think about the number of families that you have helped — whether it be IDD [waiver waitlist] of foster care or whatever it may be, Mountaineer Challenge Academy, Community in Schools, whatever. It's unbelievable what you've accomplished and what you've done. But not only have you done that — but you've done it in a lesser budget, and you've done stuff that's economically sound in every way. Our state's ready to rock and roll. 

And you guys — you ladies and men — have done one whale of a job. I congratulate you, from the bottom of my heart and I mean it in every way, shape, form or fashion. Mr. Speaker — all of you — job well done, I’m proud of you. Thank you for having me in every way, go back to work. Keep at it!

8:10 p.m. Bail Reform Bill Headed to Governor

With hopes of addressing overcrowding in the state’s regional jails, the House of Delegates voted 79 to 21 to send a bill for bail reform to the governor, after agreeing with a few amendments from the Senate. 

House Bill 2419 provides for the release of pretrial inmates on a personal recognizance bond, or a commitment that they return to court for trial, versus a cash bond.

The bill passed the Senate earlier today with some amendments elaborating on which misdemeanor charges are eligible for release and which charges need a closer look from a judge or magistrate.

Data from the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has shown throughout the session that more than half of the people occupying West Virginia’s regional jails are there pre-trial. 

The bill excludes anyone with misdemeanor possession charges, misdemeanors involving violence or deadly weapons, misdemeanors against minors, and serious misdemeanor traffic offenses. Senate amendments may lead to the exclusion of people facing misdemeanor charges dealing with petty larceny and possession of stolen property.

Delegates refused earlier this session to amend the bill to release people waiting on trial for certain misdemeanor drug charges. 

An amended version of the bill passed the Senate 25 to 3 earlier on Saturday. The bill’s fate now rests with the governor.

8:10 House Of Delegates Clears Budget Bill After Lengthy Debate

The upcoming fiscal year’s budget has been completed as the House of Delegates passed Senate Bill 150. The House concurred with changes approved earlier in the evening by the Senate.

House Finance Vice Chair Vernon Criss, R-Wood, spoke on the floor just before the measure went to a final vote. 

“It's about the best we could do with what we've got to work with. Now, as the year goes along, and we start the new fiscal year — if we see something wrong, we can take care of that, we hope. That still allows us to be able to put some money in Rainy Day Fund, when it comes time. There'll be money to be put in Rainy Day when this current budget is over.”

Delegates voted 96-3 to approve the spending bill for Fiscal Year 2021. Del. Jim Butler, R-Mason, Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, and Del. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, voted against the measure.

7:15 p.m. Governor Justice Makes A Quick Visit To Senate

Gov. Jim Justice made a quick visit to the Senate during an evening floor session. The governor offered brief remarks to members and others in the chamber.

“You’ve worked really hard. You've been away from your families; you've done the absolute of what we should all do — and that is serve. I commend you in every way. You have done so much and helped so many people and so many families. And at the end of the day, you've done it while prudently doing the right thing with our budget. So, I can never thank you enough. I really appreciate all the effort from every one of you — regardless of what side of the aisle you're on. You've done great work. So, all I would say to you is just this: Soon, get home to your families and love them in every way. And I know they're proud of you beyond belief. Thank you so much.”

7:00 p.m. Bill For Faith-Based Drug Prevention Electives Goes To The Governor

The Senate concurred with changes from the House to Senate Bill 42, sending it to the governor’s office for final approval. 

The bill allows West Virginia county boards of education to offer students faith-based electives in their schools’ drug awareness and prevention programs. 

The bill sparked debate in both chambers of the Legislature, most recently in the House of Delegates, where members of the minority party questioned on Thursday whether the bill was constitutional. A few delegates also asked whether offering faith-based electives would discriminate against students of different faiths, no faith and LGBTQ+ students. 

“My concern is that a school may provide prevention which is only faith based, and it would alleviate some of the potential for children or students to get involved in those [prevention programs],” Del. Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, said Thursday before the bill passed the House of Delegates. 

House Education Chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said standards set in the bill for county boards of education prohibit schools from using these electives to promote any one faith above another, or discriminating against certain students. 

“If it’s done properly, it is constitutional,” Ellington said Thursday. “This is optional. It is something they can do, they’re allowed to do it, it’s not promoting a particular faith or religion over one or another.”

The bill passed the House of Delegates 83 to 15 after originally passing the Senate 34 to 0 on Jan. 20, 2020. The Senate on Saturday voted unanimously and with little discussion to accept changes from the House permitting counties to offer “non-faith-based electives,” as well. 

5:30 p.m. Senate Passes Budget Bill Back To House With Amendment

Members of the Senate have sent the budget bill back to the House of Delegates on a 33-1 vote. Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, was the only "no" vote. 

Some budget improvement highlights from Senate Bill 150 include, according to Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair, R-Berkley:

  • $17 million for Medicaid to shore up potential shortfalls in coming years
  • $16.9 million for direct payments for foster care families and child placing agencies
  • $14 million for tourism (with no funds coming out of surplus)
  • $1.8 million of $2.8 million restored for MARC Train funding 
  • $2 million for potential public health response to coronavirus (COVID-19)

The budget now rests in the hands of the House of Delegates.

4:50 p.m. Senate Passes Bill Adding Data-Gathering Fusion Center To State Code

Senators voted 29 to 3 to pass House Bill 4176, officially adding the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center into state law. 

The fusion center, which gathers and evaluates open source information on potential threats of terrorist activity for state and federal agencies, is one of more than 70 nationwide. It has existed in West Virginia through an executive order from the governor’s office first issued 12 years ago. 

By adding the bill into state law, lawmakers have said they’re introducing more legislative oversight to a process that previously has operated in a very closed-off manner. 

While the House was considering the bill in February, a private citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union argued the bill wasn’t going to do enough, and called on the Legislature to add even more oversight. 

The bill is now on its way to the House, where the Senate is asking Delegates to approve some of the changes made before the bill leaves for the governor’s desk for final approval. 

4:35 p.m. Senate Votes To Make Eyeball Tattoos Illegal

Members of the Senate have approved a bill that would make getting a scleral tattoo illegal. The sclera is the white outer layer of the eyeball. The upper chamber voted 25-3 to approve House Bill 4161.

Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, said on the floor that eyeball tattoos can cause considerable pain, infections, a decrease in vision and some cancers.

“If that's not enough to convince you, my daughter — who’s sitting in the back — thinks these are creepy,” Maroney said.

Earlier this session, lawmakers noted that few other states have passed such legislation. 

With a minor amendment adopted by the Senate, the measure now heads back to the House of Delegates for reconsideration for reconsideration.

3 p.m. House Sends Foster Care Bill Back To Senate For Final Look

Delegates passed House Bill 4092 for foster care reform onto the Senate this afternoon with a few small changes.

The bill isn't the same thing delegates agreed almost unanimously to send the Senate’s way in February, but the legislation: 

Some lawmakers were concerned earlier this week after the Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees passed proposals that would’ve drastically cut the $16.9 million down by about $12 million. Delegates said on Saturday they were pleased to see the money restored, even if the dollars come with a requirement that the Department of Health and Human Resources implement a tiered system to provide higher payments for foster families caring for older children, or children with greater behavioral and emotional needs. 

The bill going back to the Senate includes minor changes to the guardian ad litem requirements, and makes 2020 the year that the bill goes into effect. If the Senate accepts these changes, the bill goes to the governor for final approval. 

3 p.m. Medical Cannabis Bill Pulled From House Calendar

Just before the start of the House’s 11 a.m. floor session, members of the Rules Committee moved Senate Bill 752 from the active calendar and parked the measure on the inactive calendar. The bill would allow patients to use “flower” or dry leaf cannabis. 

 

“They need to put that bill back on the active calendar and simply allow the body to have an up and down vote on it,” Del. Mike Pushkin said in a video posted to Facebook Saturday afternoon. 

The state’s medical cannabis program — although it was initially signed into law in 2017 — has yet to get off the ground. Adding “flower” forms of cannabis to the program has been discussed for years and has been recommended by the state medical cannabis advisory board.