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Christian Smith-Socaris on July 2, 2009 - 10:39am
While not under the fiscal pressures of most states due to rising prices for minerals, the 60 day session proved too fleeting, and the legislature and governor had to use two brief special sessions to complete their work. They did manage to pass some promising election reforms and a solar tax credit, but big reforms of health care didn't materialize and environmental policy moved backward on a couple fronts.
Budget and Stimulus: The state's $11.5 billion budget involved only limited spending cuts. However, those cuts include $1 million less for domestic violence programs and $500,000 less for free health clinics raising the ire of both Health Committee chairs. With unemployment in the state having increased by half in less than a year, the state's Unemployment Insurance fund was shored up.
The state is slated to receive 1.8 billion in Recovery Act funds. The state now has available approximately $250 million in funds for education, which will be used to retain teachers and fund educational reforms; $211 million for highway spending; $118 for medicaid reimbursement; $61 million for a clean water revolving fund; and $38 million for low-income home weatherization assistance, and a host of other grants. They were also recently awarded $13.1 million dollars to increase energy efficiency in government buildings and loan money to businesses for energy efficiency investments.
Environment and Energy: The state took two steps to promote sun power, a $2,000 residential solar power tax credit and a mandate to develop net metering rules [H 2535/Rep. Wooton]. An alternative electrical energy portfolio bill [S 297] passed that requires 25% of energy from alternative sources by 2025, however the portfolio includes multiple forms of hydrocarbon power and other polluting energy sources, and has no renewable mandate at all. The bill also lacks energy efficiency standards. A greenwashed Chesapeake Bay watershed protection bill [S 715] delays nutrient removal requirements among other provisions. One bad bill that failed to pass was the governor's post-mining land use planning bill for mountain-top removal sites [S 375], which advocates denounced as aimed at relaxing restoration requirements.
Health Care: A pilot project for implementing the "patient centered medical home" health care model has been authorized [S 414/Sen. Prezioso]. The model attempts to integrate all aspects of health care in a single "medical home," in an attempt to raise the quality and safety of medical care. Credentialing of medical professionals will also be consolidated in one agency under the bill. The mental health crisis facing the state due to its lack of community treatment options will not be addressed this year as the governor vetoed S 672 by Sen. Kessler which would increase reimbursement rates for behavior health clinic and rehabilitation services in an attempt to stabilize a "broken and deteriorating system."
Elections: The state moved forward three significant policies related to improving elections.
- Voting by Mail [H 3134/Rep. Fleishauer] - Some municipalities will be able to conduct early voting entirely by mail in 2010. In addition, fiive municipalities will be able to conduct completely vote-by-mail elections in 2011.
- Ballot Access [H 2981/Rep. Fleishauer] - Among other reforms, the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot will be cut in half, and the extremely early, spring petition deadline for all offices but president has been scraped; candidates will now have until August 1st to collect qualifying signatures.
- In-person Early Voting [H 2464/Rep. Spencer] - County Commissions will now be able to designate satellite early voting sites.
However, the biggest issue hanging over the state's elections is probably the decision this session by the US Supreme Court that the Chief Justice of the WV Supreme Court was wrong to rule in a case involving Massey Energy, who's CEO spent $3 million dollars supporting his candidacy. Unfortunately, no progress was made toward passing the Supreme Court Public Campaign Financing Act [H 3309/Rep. Fleischauer & S 311/Sen. Kessler] as the governor is convening a commission to study the matter.
Public Safety: A bill outlining notification requirements for industrial accidents [S 279/Sen. Pres. Tomblin] institutes a $100,000 fine for not reporting a significant industrial accident within 15 minutes, requires notice to the public by officials within additional 30 minutes, among other provisions.
GLBT Rights: An attempt by conservatives to bring a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage to a floor vote was defeated resoundingly. The state already has a law explicitly prohibiting even the recognition of same-sex marriages.