West Virginia Governor Jim Justice Signs Free Community College Bill, Many Others Await Action

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice has until midnight tonight to sign or veto bills passed by the West Virginia Legislature during its regular session this year, otherwise those bills become law automatically.

The 2019 legislative session started Jan. 9 and ended March 9. During the 60-day session, the Legislature passed 294 bills. By Tuesday afternoon, Justice had signed 212 bills and vetoed three bills.

Bills already signed into law include:

∫ Senate Bill 1, which creates a last-dollar-in community and technical college program, giving high school students and adult learners a chance to earn a certificate or two-year degree at one of the state’s nine community and technical colleges or at a two-year program available at six colleges and universities in the state;

∫ Senate Bill 4, which makes the state Home Rule program for cities permanent.

∫ House Bill 2010 reforms the state’s foster care system, creating an ombudsman position to investigate foster care complaints, requiring assessments of homes annually, providing parental rights and allowing the state Department of Health and Human Resources to contract with a managed care organization to oversee health care and social services for foster children; and

∫ House Bill 2538, which allows credit unions, savings and loan associations, and other banking institutions to bid to provide financial services to the office of the state treasurer for the new 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,” Justice said in a statement Tuesday.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were still 79 bills awaiting action by the governor. If the bills are not signed or vetoed by midnight tonight, the bills will become law without his signature.

Bills awaiting action by the governor include:

∫ Senate Bill 3, which would tax communications tower construction at salvage value for expansion of wireless and broadband internet, require electric companies to study the use of their power poles for broadband expansion and give internet companies the ability to use state rights of way for expanding next-generation broadband and wireless internet technology;

∫ Senate Bill 522, which would allow the Division of Highways to use pay-as-you-go money collected from increased tax revenue and DMV fees for secondary road maintenance in counties; and

∫ Senate Bill 622, which makes changes to the state’s campaign finance laws. It raises the donation cap for candidates from $1,000 to $2,800 to match federal limits. It does the same for political parties, raising the cap from $1,000 to $10,000 and political action committee donations from $1,000 to 5,000.

A number of tax cut bills also are pending. House Bill 2001 would spread a Social Security income tax exemption over the next three fiscal years. By fiscal year 2022, the remaining 22 percent of Social Security beneficiaries would be exempt from having their income taxed.

HB 3142 would reduce the tax rate for steam coal severance from 5 percent to 3 percent by fiscal 2022, reducing tax revenues by $60 million at the end of the three years. HB 2673 would eliminate severance taxes for low-producing oil and natural gas wells, with those funds going toward plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells. And HB 2829 would eliminate severance taxes for sandstone and limestone.

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