W.Va. Legislature Sends Bill To Improve Post-Disaster Construction To Governor

Jan 30, 2020

A bill seeking to speed up post-disaster construction efforts, particularly post-2016 flood recovery construction, is heading to Gov. Jim Justice’s desk Thursday after both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature approved the legislation. 

A slightly amended version of House Bill 4130 , introduced by Delegates Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, and Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas, passed both the Senate and House unanimously on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. 

The bill is aimed at the West Virginia RISE program, the federally funded, state implemented program to rebuild some of the homes lost after floods struck portions of West Virginia hard in the summer of 2016. The state Department of Homeland Security later reported that there were more than 4,000 homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. 

The West Virginia National Guard has been in charge of the RISE program since Gov. Jim Justice asked then-Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher to resign in 2018. That was following reports of misspent RISE funds and illegal agreements with contractors. 

Since then, reconstruction has been moving slowly. According to an update from the Guard on Friday, Jan. 24, there were 111 homes that had been completely rebuilt. There are 80 homes under construction now by four different contractors.

RISE reported last week it was covering 368 active cases total. There were 87 cases awaiting bids from contractors, or they were being analyzed for next steps.

On Monday, during an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting,  Jeffries said his bill would “hopefully get these contracts out a lot quicker, a lot cheaper and to more local contractors.”

“Right now, I think we have maybe four contractors that are involved in this building process,” Jeffries said. “That doesn’t do us any favors for cost.”

Jeffries said Monday he hopes the changes will lead to a faster reconstruction process with less people falling through the cracks or waiting too long for a new home. Specifically, the bill allows contracts for construction projects arising out of declared states of emergency to be bid on an open-ended basis, as opposed to being bid one at a time. 

He and other members of the interim Committee on Flooding are backing several other bills related to post-flooding and other disaster damage, including House Bill 4401 to revive the dysfunctional State Resiliency Office.

The Legislature agreed in 2017 to create such a group through legislation. After having only three meetings that year, the office was told to discontinue further efforts in June 2018. Today, it only has one staffer.

Another bill, House Bill 4383, currently assigned to the House Finance Committee, would exempt out-of-state businesses that are helping respond to emergencies from certain taxes.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.