Friday, Feb. 17 was the end of the second week of this year’s session. Very few bills are passed in the beginning of the session because it takes them a while to work their way to the House Floor for a vote. We have 18 committees in the House of Delegates and nearly that many in the Senate. Every day dozens of bills are assigned to topic specific committees and they work their way through the process. Each legislator is typically assigned to three or four committees. I am on the Finance Committee, the Health Committee, the Transportation Committee, and I am chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Some of the less technical bills move along quickly, while others move very slowly. An example of a slow moving bill is the budget bill because the details are constantly changing as revenue and expenditure estimates are adjusted throughout the 60-day session. That is why the final budget bill is the last thing to be completed. So when you are wondering why we are passing what you may consider insignificant legislation before the “important stuff” that is the reason.
One of the bills that did pass was HB 2006; it would increase the penalties for violating the Whistle-blower Law, which is an existing law to protect public employees from negative repercussions for reporting waste or wrongdoing on the job. If signed into law this will allow for the termination from employment of those retaliating against the “whistle blower” for a violation. This bill is now being sent to the Senate for consideration. I voted yes.
The only other bill to pass the House last week was HB 2099. It defines the act of leaving the scene of an automobile crash not involving serious bodily injury as a misdemeanor, and the act of leaving the scene of a crash that does involve serious bodily injury or death as a felony. I voted yes.
Otherwise, last week the Finance Committee continued to examine details of the Governor’s budget proposal. As he wrote on the whiteboard during the televised State of the State Address he told us about his sales tax increase, which would be a $93 million tax increase, and his commercial activity tax which would be a $214 million tax increase. A couple taxes that he did not mention though were a sales tax on professional services totaling $82 million, and an advertising sales tax of $5.6 million.
In addition to those proposals Governor Justice also proposed over $300 million in new spending to include selling bonds, which is the governments way of borrowing money for road and infrastructure construction, and a program that he calls the “Save our State” plan which is a $105 million stimulus plan.
We are continuing to meet with agency heads to learn the details of the Governor’s plans. We are also exploring alternatives which would allow us to balance the budget without such large tax increases by reducing unnecessary spending in state government, and changing West Virginia’s tax structure to make it more beneficial for all taxpayers.
It has been wonderful to greet many Mason and Putnam County students as they have been participating in the Page Program. They are great representatives of our schools and our counties.
Please continue to pray for me and all of my colleagues here at the legislature. While I realize that we have serious challenges ahead, I am encouraged by our opportunities. It is an honor to serve you.
Delegate Jim Butler
Jim Butler (R-Gallipolis Ferry) represents the 14th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.