Moving and Shaking In the West Virginia Senate
Day capped with commissioner being kicked out of chamber
WHEELING — A resolution suggested by Marshall County Commissioner Bob Miller that could lead to the financing of an expansion of Interstate 68 unanimously passed the West Virginia Senate Wednesday — but not before Miller found himself mistakenly called out for “lobbying” by one Senate member and banned from the Senate chamber for the remainder of the day.
It was just one episode in a busy day for lawmakers that saw, among other things, senators pass bills to legalize medical marijuana in the state and increase the tax credit available for rehabilitating historic buildings.
Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, was speaking on Miller’s measure, Senate Joint Resolution 4, on the the Senate floor when Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, called out to the House speaker that a “lobbyist” was in the balcony and making gestures to get the attention of senators. The Senate’s sergeant-at-arms was informed.
Miller said he had been watching the Senate proceedings from the balcony throughout the day when he left momentarily. When he returned, he was not able to re-enter the north gallery where he had been sitting — but he heard Clements speaking on the floor.
Miller was able to enter the second balcony area, but he was concerned Clements didn’t see he was there. Miller was gesturing to get the attention of Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, when he was spotted by Beach. Miller then was taken out of the area by the sergeant-at-arms.
“He asked for my credentials, and I asked, ‘What, my drivers license?'” Miller said. “He said, ‘No, your lobbying credentials.’
“I told him I’m not a lobbyist, I’m a commissioner. He just laughed and said he was sorry. It was all totally innocent.”
Amid the drama, SJR 4 passed 34-0, and is now on its way to the House of Delegates. The measure would authorize the Legislature to allocate a portion of property taxes paid by owners of large manufacturing facilities back to the counties in which they are located to fund major infrastructure projects — such as the expansion of I-68 from Monongalia County to Marshall County. It would also allow counties to partner with boards of education on projects.
“I’m just ecstatic that it passed,” he said. “I couldn’t be more happy.”
In one of the Senate’s final acts before adjourning for the night, members approved Senate Bill 386, which would legalize medical marijuana in West Virginia and now moves to the House. Local senators were split on the matter, with Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, and Clements voting in favor, and Sens. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, and Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, opposed.
The Senate on Wednesday also advanced a bill that would increase the amount of a tax credit available for rehabilitating certified historic structures.
Senate Bill 238, introduced by Ferns, would raise the tax credit from 10 percent to 25 percent for improving qualified properties for commercial use. As currently written, the tax credits would be available for qualified rehabilitation expenditures made after Dec. 31.
The measure unanimously passed the Senate Wednesday, and will move on to the House for the final week of the regular session.
Jake Dougherty, executive director of Wheeling Heritage, termed the measure “critical” for communities such as Wheeling with many older structures. With renovations, these properties could become useful and tax-producing, he said.
He said there are several significant and important commercial structures in downtown Wheeling that could benefit from the increase in the historic tax credit. Among these are the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building, and the Marsh Stogie building.
“Without this credit, these buildings are not viable and we need an incentive to make them viable,” Dougherty said. “The tax credit would allow these buildings to be viable again, while creating construction jobs and converting vacant buildings to their potential. It would also increase the amount of their property taxes as they become productive again.”
Wednesday marked the 50th day of the 60-day legislative session — commonly known as “crossover day,” meaning lawmakers had until midnight to pass out bills from their chamber of origin and keep them moving in the Legislature.
In other actions by the Senate, members rejected SB 549, which would have allowed individuals 21 or older to operate or ride motorcycle without helmet. The measure failed by a vote of 15-19, with Ferns, Clements, Weld and Maroney all voting “no.”
The Senate adjourned for the night without voting on one additional piece of legislation being watched locally. SB 281 would have increased the number of slot machines permitted at local lottery retailers from five to seven, and from 10 to 12 at fraternal organizations.
SB 437 — a measure to discontinue the state’s Greyhound Breeding Development Fund — already has passed the Senate, and was up for its second of three readings in the House on Wednesday. As the House addressed for passage bills introduced in the House, the second reading of SB 437 was moved to today.
House members Wednesday spent much time debating House Bill 3080, which would require all public, private and parochial schools in West Virginia to enact a “Celebrate Freedom Week” each year to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and Constitution Day on Sept. 17. Schools would have to provide during this week at least three hours of appropriate instruction in each social studies class focusing on the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution with emphasis on the Bill of Rights.
In the end, the measure passed 97-3, with Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, among those in opposition. He said he doesn’t trust the state Board of Education to choose which interpretation of history would be presented to the students, and disliked that the bill would give the state more control over private schools.