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Charleston Report

Gary Howell

Capitol Office:
Room 151R, Building 1
State Capitol Complex
Charleston, WV 25305
Capitol Phone: (304) 340-3191

P.O. Box 39
Keyser, WV 26726
District Phone: (304) 790-9022


May 23, 2024

We have now completed the May interims of the West Virginia Legislature and a special session called by Governor Justice.

            The Joint Committee of Finance met on Monday and heard a budget presentation on the state’s April performance.  As West Virginia’s economy continues to grow at a rapid rate we saw 18.4% increase in corporate income taxes, but another reflection of that strong growth is in personal income tax.  Last year the legislature cut personal income tax by 21.5%, collections are only down by 18.1%. That is an indication that more people are working, and wages are increasing.  All good signs for West Virginians.

During the Special Session, the House Committee on Finance convened to review several bills. One bill allocated $186 million to Human Services, and the committee amended it to ensure that funding for waiver populations was restored. I supported an amendment to add approximately $23 million to childcare services in response to an unfunded federal mandate requiring that childcare services be paid based on enrollment rather than usage. Unfortunately, this amendment did not pass.

When the same bill made it to the floor, a similar amendment was offered to put the $23 million in, but it failed on a 35 to 50 vote.  The bill did pass with an amendment mandating full funding for the IDD Waiver program and other waiver programs. The Senate refused to ensure full funding and returned the bill to the House, but the House rejected their change. However, the Senate adjourned Sine Die as a procedural move, indicating they wouldn't reconvene. This move would have effectively terminated the bill, but the House took additional procedural steps to accept the Senate's change to secure the funding. While the money is allocated for the Waiver programs, without the House amendment, there's no guarantee it will be directed there. Nonetheless, the funds are available if the executive branch opts to allocate them accordingly. Let's remain hopeful that they make the right decision.

Another important bill that was passed will put $150 million into the Division of Highways to purchase new equipment and for late season paving projects. We also put $10 million additional into the Posey Perry Emergency Food Bank Fund to help with those struggling to buy groceries with the high inflation currently going on.

            The Joint Committee on Economic Development hosted two presentations. The first was by Mitch Carmichael, Secretary of the Department of Economic Development, who provided an update on the state’s economic development efforts. Over the past two years, West Virginia has attracted over $10 billion in new investment, compared to $6 billion in the previous five years. The state is now one of the tops in the nation for GDP and wage growth. Additionally, West Virginia ranks number one in manufacturing worker loyalty and the distance workers are willing to travel for a job, making it highly attractive to new businesses. Kevin O’Leary, also known as Mr. Wonderful, is actively promoting West Virginia as an investment destination, and the industry is taking notice.

The second was a presentation on the success of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority’s Hatfield-McCoy Trail system.  Executive Director Jeff Lusk gave the presentation which showed continue growth, which is greatly benefiting southern West Virginia.  What is slowing their growth is lack of vacation lodging.  Several resorts are being planned and growth in short term rental construction, such as Air B&Bs, is continuing.  All of this is contributing to West Virginia’s strong tourism growth.

If you have any inquiries, require assistance with a state agency, or wish to share ideas that could enhance our state, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can contact me at or by phone at (304) 340-3191. Your input is valuable as we work towards making positive contributions to West Virginia.

April 18, 2024

In April, the West Virginia Legislature convened its first Interim Session following the regular session. These sessions provide legislators with extended time to delve deeply into pressing state issues, conduct reports and audits, and lay the groundwork for the upcoming 2025 legislative session. Typically held at the capital in Charleston, this particular session also took place there. Additionally, one Interim Session is scheduled to be held in Parkersburg later this year.

The first committee I serve on to meet was the Joint Committee on Government and Finance, which serves as the leadership committee of the combined houses of the legislature.  We receive in advance a book covering many subjects of interest to the legislature.  This month’s book was 180 pages long.

An important highlight in the book was the overview of West Virginia's Broadband Investment plan. It outlines a significant investment totaling $271.8 million, comprising $191 million from ARPA funds and $86.8 million in matching funds. This investment aims to enhance broadband infrastructure across the state, including the installation of 4,867 miles of new infrastructure, primarily focusing on fiber optic lines. The initiative aims to reach 53,125 locations statewide. Notably, in Mineral County, this includes extending coverage along the New Creek Valley to the Grant County line and along WV 46 into Fort Ashby and its surrounding areas.

The Joint Committee on Finance met to get an update on the state’s revenue collections, this was the same presentation given to the Joint Committee on Government and Finance.  Generally, the state is continuing to do very well.  One revenue stream is giving surprising results.  In the current tax year, we cut the state’s income tax by 21.5%, but year-to-date revenues are only down by 9.4%.  Much of this is due to increasing employment in the state and rising wages.

Tax revenues are surpassing the state's conservative projections, indicating a probable surplus of funds by the end of the fiscal year on June 30th. In August, assessments will be conducted to determine if the state can feasibly enact further reductions in personal income tax. The potential maximum cut stands at an additional 10%, all calculated based on pre-COVID levels. This, coupled with the forthcoming refund of personal property tax next year, will inject more money into the pockets of West Virginians.

The Joint Committee on Economic Development had a presentation, Joe Shockey of Jackson County, on how the state’s toll road, the West Virginia Turnpike, is a hindrance to food distribution centers in the state.  In reality, it is a hindrance to all distribution centers.  Specifically in beverages, they move south. Products from West Virginia dairy processors and other bottling companies tend to move south into areas like Georgia and the Carolinas.   Interstates I-77 and I-79 funnel south bound traffic into the WV Turnpike, which is the shortest route.  The cost to West Virginia distribution companies is estimated at about $350,000 putting them at a disadvantage to companies located on other North-South Corridors like I-81, I-75 and I-71. 

The proposal entails establishing a tax credit for West Virginia companies equivalent to the tolls paid by distribution companies within the state. Such a measure aims to incentivize the expansion of existing companies and attract businesses from neighboring states to relocate to West Virginia to avail themselves of the tax credit. The anticipated outcome is that the benefits derived from increased economic activity and job creation would surpass any reduction in revenue, thereby fostering greater employment opportunities and enhancing food security within the state.

The legislature will be back in Charleston for additional interim meetings in May and a possible special session.  But, If you have any inquiries, require assistance with a state agency, or wish to share ideas that could enhance our state, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can contact me at or by phone at (304) 340-3191. Your input is valuable as we work towards making positive contributions to West Virginia.


March 15th, 2024

Saturday the 9th marked the end of the 2024 Regular Session of the West Virginia Legislature.  As normal we start early in the morning on the final day and end at midnight.  It makes for a very long and busy day as bills make the final cut or die until next year. 

Throughout each legislative session, certain bills garner significant attention, sometimes rightfully so, while other times they may be misunderstood. One such bill during the 2024 session was SB 841, which underwent radical transformations throughout the process, bearing little resemblance to its original form except for its title: "Setting amount of unemployment taxes and benefits."

Initial presentations to the legislature warned of an impending fiscal crisis in the state's unemployment fund. We were informed that the surplus would vanish by July of this year, with the principal following shortly after. This scenario painted a picture of an imminent need for a substantial tax hike on businesses, potentially leading to increased unemployment. Immediate action was deemed necessary to safeguard the state's economy and jobs.

However, after weeks of deliberation across multiple committees, it became evident that the situation wasn't as dire as initially portrayed. While a fiscal cliff loomed in the future, it was several years away and required attention, nonetheless. Understanding the sentiments of actual constituents proved challenging at times. Numerous emails flooded in from concerned citizens, many of which were identical due to instructions from advocacy groups. Interestingly, one individual opted to send a screenshot from their phone instead of copying and pasting the content. That is a dead giveaway it is not a grassroots effort.

In the end, I received only three emails from constituents in the 87th district, all prior to the final version of the bill. Ultimately, the legislation established a fixed 26-week duration for unemployment benefits as it is now, maintained the benefit rate schedule, and stabilized business taxes. This ensured that the fiscal cliff was averted, benefits remained intact, and there would be no tax increases post-July 1, 2024. The outcome provided protection for all stakeholders within the system.

One bill that completed the process on the final night was HB 5162 entitled “Establish a program to promote creation and expansion of registered apprenticeship programs.”  This was a bill that I introduced and passed with only a single no vote but had a lot of questions and concerns.  The bill was based off one that I learned about while attending CSG South’s, Southern Legislative Conference, last summer.  The bill creates the "Youth Apprenticeship Program," which allows any students in 11th or 12th grades, or who are sixteen years or older, the opportunity to enroll in apprenticeship programs offered at public schools and the ability to gain secondary credits.  The program is open to a broad range of skills, including those specifically focused on manufacturing and engineering technology, administration and office technology, and health care. It allows the students to get on the job training and get credit for that training towards a degree or certificate.  

There were concerns for student safety in the workplace, but they must comply with all child labor laws outlined in the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act to make sure the students stay safe. The program will start next school year as a pilot then be expanded afterwards. It will give West Virginia students a leg up on transitioning after graduation to the workplace in higher paying fields. 

As we gathered for the final regular session meeting of the 86th Legislature, it's a time marked by heartfelt farewells from many Delegates who are not seeking reelection or are pursuing other offices. These speeches often carry deep emotional resonance. While the public may witness clips of impassioned debates on the news, what often goes unseen is the formation of genuine friendships across party lines behind the scenes.

Despite our differences in policy and approach, one common thread unites the bulk of legislators: a shared desire to enhance our state and its future. We may diverge on the methods and strategies to achieve this goal, but our overarching commitment remains. It's this dedication that underscores the essence of public service and drives us to work tirelessly for the betterment of our communities and the people we serve.

We will meet again for a few days of interim meetings in April, but in the meantime if you have inquiries, require assistance with a state agency, or wish to share ideas for improving the state, don't hesitate to reach out. You can contact me at or by phone at (304) 340-3191.


 March 9th, 2024

This week marks the final week of the regular session for 2024.  We have been working exclusively on Senate bills except for the budget bill and supplemental appropriations. This is an extremely stressful and busy week as lobbyists and legislators are working hard to get the bills, they care about across the finish line.   For me it was a little worse, I had managed to dodge the “Capitol Crud,” what we call the seasonal flu, all session until Monday.  Rather than transmit it to my colleagues I chose to stay away, load up on cold meds, drink plenty of fluids and rest.  I did watch the proceedings and kept in contact with staff and colleagues via text and e@mail. 

            As the session comes to a close, the reception of Senate Messages becomes a more significant aspect of our session days. Senate Messages generally arrive in one of two forms. The first indicates that the Senate has passed a House bill without any amendments, signifying that the bill has completed legislative action and is now en route to the Governor's desk. The second form communicates that the Senate has made amendments to a House bill and is requesting the House to concur with these changes. Typically, these alterations are minor corrections, and we often agree to them, re-passing the bill for the Governor's consideration.

However, if the House disagrees with the Senate's amendments, we can vote not to accept them and request the Senate to reconsider. In such cases, the bill is sent back to the Senate. During this process, we individually review the bills and determine whether the changes are acceptable to us. There are instances where a bill we may have initially voted against in the House receives our approval with the Senate's modifications, or vice versa. It's all part of the intricate process aimed at crafting the best possible laws.

In a groundbreaking moment for the West Virginia House artificial intelligence took center stage on Thursday as it was employed to audibly present a bill on the house floor. The West Virginia Constitution includes a provision for bills to be read aloud in their entirety, originally intended for situations where an elected member might be illiterate. Given West Virginia's high literacy rate, this practice is not deemed essential; however, it has found a new role as a strategic delaying tactic by those dissatisfied with ongoing developments.


During the consideration of an amendment to SB 173 proposed by a minority member, the amendment failed to pass. Subsequently, another member from the minority requested the bill be read aloud. To expedite the process and save time, artificial intelligence was initially utilized to read the bill at a rapid pace. Although the AI encountered difficulties and a human took over, the event marked a historic moment in the state's legislative proceedings. The bill that modifies certain guidelines for motor vehicle dealers, distributors, wholesalers, and manufacturers passed.

SB 628 is an annual bill. It is entitled, Declaring certain claims as moral obligations of the state.  What that means in Layman’s terms, is if you hit a pothole the state failed to repair and destroyed a rim and tire, then you file with the West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission for damages.  If awarded, your name and amount is placed in a bill to be passed by the legislature and you get paid for the damage to your vehicle.  There are other claims as well, the largest being to Charles Jason Lively, a McDowell County man who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, it was in the amount of $1,568,936.00.

            The United States national motto is "In God We Trust," and although it was permitted but not required in schools, the passage of SB 152 will make it mandatory to display "In God We Trust" in all public schools and public higher education institutions. This aligns with the actions taken by other states. During the recent floor debate, Democrats raised some peculiar questions. One question was whether it must be in English, despite the bill explicitly stating the exact words in English. They also inquired about the timing of the requirement, despite the common knowledge that all state laws take effect 90 days after passage unless otherwise specified. In the end, all Democrats, with the exception of one, voted against displaying the national motto. Due to some technical changes, the bill now awaits further consideration in the Senate.

            One of the more intriguing debates revolved around SB 571, a bill aimed at establishing the WV Corridor H Advanced Energy and Economic Corridor Authority. Such authorities are widespread and designed to foster business development, ultimately contributing to job growth within the state. During the debate, opponents expressed concerns about the perceived lack of local control, despite the fact that a significant portion of the authority's membership consists of county development authorities appointed by County Commissions, providing a form of local control.


Interestingly, much of the resistance seemed to originate from the far eastern county along Corridor H, advocating an anti-economic growth stance. Unfortunately, the bill was postponed for a day without reaching a vote, a decision that is disheartening. From my perspective, this legislation represents a crucial step in addressing the job losses in the Potomac Highlands resulting from the shutdown of AWP, making it a significant and necessary measure.

            In my upcoming report, I will delve into the events of the final night of the regular session, providing a comprehensive overview of the key happenings. If you have any inquiries, require assistance with a state agency, or wish to share ideas that could enhance our state, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can contact me at or by phone at (304) 340-3191. Your input is valuable as we work towards making positive contributions to West Virginia.

 March 2nd, 2024

Wednesday of this week was Crossover Day. Crossover Day is the day when all bills must be out of their house of origin.  From that point forward the House of Delegates will only be working on Senate bills, and the Senate, House bills.  The bills that have not left their house of origin are dead for the year.  The only exceptions to this rule are appropriation bills, which includes the budget.

            One of the most heated debates on the floor revolved around HB 5105, which addressed school vaccine requirements and proposed exemptions beyond medical reasons. The discussion extended for approximately two hours before the bill secured passage with a 57-41 vote. The focal point of the debate was the delicate balance between individual rights and communal safety, echoing Oliver Wendell Holmes's famous assertion, "My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins."

The crux of the matter was whether refusing a proven vaccine, such as Polio, poses a potential danger to others, thereby encroaching on their rights. The analogy drew attention to the current context, where a porous southern border has led to the resurgence of diseases once uncommon in the U.S. Just this week, Florida experienced a measles outbreak, a disease capable of causing death in young children or leaving lasting health impacts, including deafness or intellectual disability.

The crucial question raised in the debate was whether opting out of a vaccine equates to one's metaphorical fist contacting another's nose. The bill has now moved to the Senate for further consideration.

Ohio drivers were brought up several times during debate on HB 5237, which would prohibit driving slow in left lane except under certain circumstances.  Ohio drivers are notorious for camping out in the left lane and impeding traffic.  Earlier in the month the House narrowly voted down a very similar Senate bill, 46-48, but this one passed on a 68-31 vote.  The bill includes several exceptions including when the vehicle in the left lane is passing another car, when the right-hand lane is blocked, when the right lane is damaged, or when the vehicle is making a left turn exit. The primary difference between the House and Senate bills, is the House bill would make it a secondary offense, not a primary.  The reality is cars driving in the left lane impeding traffic, speeding or not, create a safety hazard.

HB 4822, a bill focused on increasing the permitted grant amount for establishing a certified site, underwent a last-minute debate when a Delegate requested recognition to voice opposition. The bill sought to raise the grant ceiling from $25,000 to $75,000, allocated for activities such as environmental studies and the installation of water or sewer lines to enhance the readiness of a site for business purposes. Despite the crucial nature of economic development, the debate lasted for approximately half an hour.

Ironically, several speakers opposing the bill hailed from regions that could benefit significantly from the proposed financial assistance. Ultimately, the bill secured passage with an 86 to 13 vote. The fact that there was opposition to a measure aimed at fostering economic development in the state raised concerns, given the importance of growing the state's economy to improve the quality of life for its citizens. Economic development initiatives are often seen as vital for overall prosperity and job creation.

The Committee on Economic Development met to take up Senate bills.  One SB 571 will create the WV Corridor H Advanced Energy and Economic Corridor Authority. This authority will work to promote economic development along the route.  As some members of the House that represent areas along the route have began voting against economic development efforts, I am beginning to have concern for this initiative.   Could this be used by anti-economic development counties to hurt other counties?  The bill easily passed the committee and now moves to the Finance Committee. SB 782 was another bill that came through the committee that is a style of pro economic development bill called a “Shot Clock” bill.  It will define deadlines for local permits and extensions for property development or improvement, if the local body doesn’t approve or deny a permit in 60-days, then the permit will automatically be approved, so the project can move forward.

            During this week's session of the Finance Committee, a last-minute bill was brought forward to meet the crossover day deadline: HB 4408. Titled "to allow the development of a specialized intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities," this bill was introduced by myself after visiting successful facilities in Indiana. The intention behind HB 4408 was to facilitate the transition of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) from locked-down mental hospitals to intermediate step-down facilities before moving them into more residential settings.

However, the bill underwent significant modifications during the committee meeting, resulting in it no longer serving its original purpose. Instead, the revised version simply adds more beds without addressing the crucial aspect of transitioning the IDD population out of mental hospitals. Despite this setback, the bill proceeded to pass the full House.

It is my hope that in the future, the legislature will prioritize measures that genuinely assist in the transition of individuals with IDD from mental hospitals to a better quality of life, as originally intended with HB 4408.

Also Finance passed out the House version of the budget bill HB 4025. This will not be the final version of the budget, but a starting point to negotiate with the Senate.

            If you have any inquiries, require assistance with a state agency, or wish to share ideas that could enhance our state, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can contact me at or by phone at (304) 340-3191. Your input is valuable as we work towards making positive contributions to West Virginia.

February 24th 2024

This week, all first-reference committees were required to complete their tasks on house bills as we approach crossover day. This timeline allows the second-reference committee ample time to deliberate on the bill before advancing it to the floor. It's required that each bill undergo presentation on three distinct days on the House floor prior to a full House vote. Crossover day, scheduled for Wednesday the 28th, serves as the final opportunity for a House bill to transition to the Senate and for a Senate bill to move to the House.

            The first bill of note I would like to highlight this week is Committee Substitute for HB 5017, which will create reciprocity between counties for mobile food establishments, aka food trucks.  Being mobile, they create a unique issue over traditional restaurants. This bill, should it become law, would effectively create a statewide license. 

            A notable infrastructure naming resolution, of particular significance for Mineral County, is HCR 7, titled the "U.S. Navy Radarman 3rd Class Craig W. Haines Memorial Bridge." This resolution designates the Russeldale Bridge, spanning CR 13 over Patterson Creek south of Burlington, as the "U.S. Navy Radarman 3rd Class Craig W. Haines Memorial Bridge." Craig W. Haines, born on August 9, 1946, was a resident of Burlington. On February 17, 1970, he was declared a casualty of the Vietnam War while serving in Kien Giang Province, South Vietnam, aboard Patrol Craft Fast 22, a U.S. Navy Swift Boat.

            Probably the most debated bill of the week on the House floor was HB 4299.  Commonly called the Teacher Carry Bill, it allows teachers and school service personal that volunteer to undergo special training and evaluation to carry a concealed weapon to defend the school from a terrorist attack.  It was good that the bill had strong debate, as everyone had concerns. The bill passed the House along party lines on an 89 to 11 vote.  Should the Senate pass the bill and the Governor sign it into law, West Virginia will become the 33rd state to offer this protection to students.

            The final bill of note I would like to inform you about is HB 4880, which I co-sponsor, will eliminate the final income taxes on Social Security over 3 years.  A few years ago we began the elimination of the income taxes on Social Security for those earning less than $50,000 filing singly and $100,000 filing jointly.  This will eliminate all remaining income taxes on Social Security.

            The Committee on Economic Development and Tourism convened twice this week, with a key focus on addressing an issue identified after the deadline for introducing bills. HB 5696, originating from the committee, aims to rectify a coding error related to the Upper Ohio Valley Trail Network. The discrepancy came to light during discussions about another bill concerning the Mountaineer Trail Network. The error occurred when, during the establishment of the Upper Ohio Valley Trail Network last year, the code section for the Mountaineer Trail Network was inadvertently copied, leading to the incorrect designation of Monongalia County as the lead county for the Upper Ohio Valley Trail Network. The proposed bill seeks to rectify this by naming Wood County as the lead county for the new trail network.

            The committee also had several presentations, here is one I thought may be of interest.  The first was by Tim Cotter of Racer X Magazine and promoter of motocross events around the nation.  His company is based out of Morgantown. This gives the opportunity to committee to hear how successful West Virginians grew their businesses here in the Mountain State, more importantly we learn about what obstacles still exist to further growth and what other states do differently that we can look at as best practices. During his presentation we learned the state of Texas maintains the Event Trust Funds to help companies put on large events in the state that contribute significantly to the state’s economy.  After learning of this the committee is requesting an interim study be conducted to see if this is something that West Virginia should explore to promote tourism and jobs in the entertainment event industry in our state.

            The Finance Committee, of which I am a member, is currently grappling with a demanding schedule, necessitating additional meeting times. Of notable interest statewide is HB 4883, commonly referred to as the pay raise bill, which I proudly co-sponsor. This proposed legislation aims to enhance the wages of State Police and school personnel, provided it becomes law. It's worth noting that the wages of other state employees, not explicitly outlined in the state code, will see their increases reflected in the state budget.

            If you have any inquiries, require assistance with a state agency, or wish to share ideas that could enhance our state, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can contact me at or by phone at (304) 340-3191. Your input is valuable as we work towards making positive contributions to West Virginia.

February 17th, 2024

During this week's proceedings in the 2024 West Virginia legislative session, the final opportunity to introduce bills arrived. Nonetheless, committees retain a brief window to initiate bills within their domains. Debates on the House floor have intensified, and the days have grown longer as committees strive to advance their proposed legislation.

The House passed House Resolution 6, a resolution reaffirming support for the town of Thurmond and the historic buildings within the community.  The historic town of Thurmond lies in the New River Gorge National Park and was used as a filming location for the movie Matewan.  As part of becoming a National Park, the town which is owned by the National Park Service (NPS) was to be preserved.  The NPS has stated they do not have the funding to maintain all the buildings in Thurmond and wish to tear down over half.  The people of the area and the legislature see this as violation of what was told to the people of West Virginia. The resolution is a more formal way of the House of Delegates stating the town should be saved to preserve the history.

A noteworthy bill that successfully cleared the full Legislature is SB 171. This bill will curtail County Commissions' intervention in agricultural operations, particularly addressing instances in areas like Hardy County. In such regions, newcomers from urban areas may lack an understanding of agriculture and advocate for limitations on properties owned by longstanding landowners. The bill seeks to prevent county commissions from enacting regulations that surpass state laws concerning agricultural operations, safeguarding the autonomy of long-established landowners in the process.

Another bill prompted by similar circumstances as SB 171 was HB 4782, which aims to prevent municipalities from targeting protected businesses with planning and zoning ordinances more restrictive than those placed upon other businesses.  Some cities in the state were trying to restrict Second Amendment rights, by using zoning to ban gun shops within their borders.  The bill would prevent that from happening.

            A bill that sparked significant debate during the legislative proceedings was HB 5243, titled "Relating to Women’s Bill of Rights." This legislation aims to ensure that the state code acknowledges the scientifically supported fact that there are only two genders. It achieves this by explicitly defining terms such as "female" and "male," "men" and "women," and "girls" and "boys," and stipulates that these terms should be consistently applied throughout state law. The bill passed with a vote of 87-12, with support and opposition largely following party lines.

            House Joint Resolution 28 would place on the ballot a constitutional amendment asking the people of West Virginia if they want protection from medically assisted suicide or euthanasia. If the citizens of the state choose to adopt the amendment, then going forward a future legislature will not be able to enact assisted suicide laws.

            One of the most misconstrued bills of the session, HB 4654, has been subject to deliberate dissemination of false information. Contrary to the misinformation, the bill does not ban any books, remove historical literature from the history section, or pose a threat to libraries or librarians in the state. Instead, it removes bona fide schools, public libraries, and museums from the list of criminal liability exemptions related to the distribution and display of obscene matter to minors.

HB 4654 aims to ensure that obscene materials are placed in an adult-only section of the library, away from the accessibility of children, similar to the way video stores had designated adult sections in the past. In the event of unintentional misplacement, no violation occurs, and the librarian simply needs to rectify the placement when notified. The primary intent of the bill is to protect children from exposure to explicit content, making it clear that its impact should be a concern only for those intentionally providing obscene material to children.

The Finance Committee met and mixed in with our budget presentations were several bills.  One of those, HB 5170, which I introduced, increases the size of matching grants for local economic development from $30,000 to $50,000.  This is being done to adjust for inflation. Another, HB 5128, would set up annual funding for volunteer fire departments and EMS. Last year we provided one-time funding to help fire and EMS with rising costs, and at that time we told our citizens we would work for a long-term solution. HB 5128 is our first attempt at that solution.

As the chair of the House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism, we convened multiple times to address various matters. During one of our meetings, we received a presentation from the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area, which focuses on promoting tourism across 16 counties spanning West Virginia and Maryland, including Mineral and Grant Counties in West Virginia, and Allegany and Garrett in Maryland. Funded by the National Park Service, they play a vital role in enhancing tourism in the region.

A notable bill that advanced out of the committee was HB 5544. This legislation mandates the production of a report by the Mountaineer Trail Network, outlining the progress made toward achieving the goals established by the West Virginia legislature. This measure underscores the importance of accountability and transparency in tracking the fulfillment of legislative objectives, particularly in initiatives aimed at enhancing tourism and economic development within the state.

If you have any inquiries, require assistance with a state agency, or wish to share ideas that could enhance our state, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can contact me at or by phone at (304) 340-3191. Your input is valuable as we work towards making positive contributions to West Virginia.

February 10, 2024

This week marks the West Virginia Legislature's midpoint in the 60-day session. With the days becoming increasingly hectic, we are gaining insights into the bills likely to progress through the legislative process and those facing challenges. During this phase, House and Senate members engage in discussions to articulate the necessity and purpose behind specific bills that have crossed over.

            With house squatters in the news across the nation moving into people’s home while they are away, then claiming they are tenants, the WV Legislature decided to act.  That comes in the form of HB 4940, with the very descriptive short title of, “A squatter cannot be considered a tenant in WV.”  If this bill becomes law, then if a squatter moves into your house, you can call the police and have them removed immediately.  You do not have to go through the eviction process as if they were an actual paying tenant.

            House Joint Resolution 21 is not merely a bill but rather a resolution aimed at proposing an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution. The resolution advocates for the prohibition of individuals who are not United States citizens from participating in any election conducted within the state. This resolution is prompted by the observation that certain jurisdictions, including some cities, permit non-citizen residents to vote in local elections.

Following its approval in the House, House Joint Resolution 21 must garner a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate to advance further. If successful, it will be presented to the electorate on the November ballot, enabling the people of West Virginia to determine whether they wish to allow non-citizen residents to participate in elections.

Another occurrence across the nation that has been happening is something know as “Swatting.”  Swatting is where police are falsely called to an active shooter or hostage event that doesn’t exist.  The people that tend to be swatted are school officials, public bureaucrats and elected officials.  Law enforcement and emergency services are called in from all over to the site expecting to find a horrific event, but only find a family eating dinner after they have broken in the front door.  In some cases, guns are drawn and there is the possibility of innocent people being injured or killed.  HB 4845, introduced by Mineral County Delegate Rick Hillenbrand, makes this type of false claim a felony.  The bill passed unanimously.

            The Finance committee has proceeded with its budget hearings and reviewed several bills, none of which are particularly groundbreaking in the realm of finance; rather, they primarily involve code cleanup. One notable bill entails the elimination of a tax credit that has remained unused for 24 years, rendering it obsolete for future qualification.

Meanwhile, the Committee on Economic Development and Tourism has continued its efforts. Notably, HB 5350 seeks to broaden the definition of "recreational purposes" to encompass mountain biking activities. Existing sections of the legal code acknowledge that certain activities inherently entail risks, such as skiing and mountain climbing, and accordingly, the state imposes limitations on liability for individuals engaging in these activities in a customary manner. This bill extends such protections to include mountain biking.

            Another bill of note dealt with the fact that most small businesses start in the home and there is a movement to protect that right for people.  HB 4943 is designed to facilitate the creation of home-based businesses, while protecting the neighborhood.  The bill garnered much debate during the committee meeting and included some changes to make it clear that any home-based business had to be “no impact” to the neighborhood.  What this means is, it can’t be seen from the street.  During COVID shutdowns many people worked from home, but some cities had rules in place that made that illegal.  This bill, if it becomes law will make sure you can work as an accountant in your living room if you want to. 

If you have any inquiries, require assistance with a state agency, or wish to share ideas that could enhance our state, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can contact me at or by phone at (304) 340-3191. Your input is valuable as we work towards making positive contributions to West Virginia.

February 3rd, 2024

As the West Virginia Legislature approaches the midpoint of the session, the pace is intensifying. Meetings are extending, and legislators are scheduling discussions with committee chairs and other stakeholders to advance their bills to ensure they successfully navigate the legislative process.

The House has approved HB 4764, a bill that enables the online purchase and printing of one-trip temporary vehicle permits. Presently, individuals are required to visit a West Virginia State Police Detachment in person to acquire these permits. Introduced by Delegate Adam Burkhammer, the bill aims to facilitate private vehicle sales. This change will permit the purchase of permits during weekends and after business hours, aligning with the times when most private sales occur.  It now moves on to the Senate.

Sometimes when an event occurs it shows the need for a change in state code.  That is the case with HB 4766.  What prompted this bill was the closure of I-79 Exit 91, for Roanoke, WV. More importantly, it is the exit for Stonewall Resort State Park, a top destination in the state for tourists. The public only learned about the exit closure a few days before it was shut down. The park and local businesses had no time to prepare for a long detour, which can be as long as 23 miles if you miss the first detour exit. The bill requires posting of a road closure at least 30 days in advance, this gives the business and opportunity to notify their customers of a required change in route. 

The freedom to choose the vehicle you wish to drive is crucial. You should have the ability to select a vehicle based on your needs, rather than being restricted by the preferences of elected officials. Given the increasing calls from various states and municipalities to cease the sale of gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, I deemed it important to safeguard your freedom to choose the power source for your vehicle. Thus, I introduced HB 4434, titled “Relating to restrictions on use or sale of motor vehicles based on power source.” This legislation aims to prevent government-imposed restrictions on the sale of vehicles and farm equipment based on power sources. Whether you prefer a gas, diesel, or electric vehicle, the choice will be yours. This bill has now advanced to the Senate.

In Committees this week, the Finance Committee continued budget hearings, but did pass one supplemental appropriations bill. Researchers at the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute have made a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s treatment with ultrasound.  Scientists from around the world are coming to West Virginia to learn more about the process and how it can be expanded, but the same research had shown that it may be able to be used to treat eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).  As a result, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute to advance research in this area.  WVU asked for a $2 million supplemental appropriation to start this research.  The research is so promising that members of the committee asked if even more money would help. To the credit of head of research, Dr. Ali Rezai, he said no, this is what they need to move forward.  The bill passed the committee unanimously.

The House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism, of which I am the chair, passed multiple bills this week. One noteworthy bill is HB 4905, which establishes the Tourism and Commercial Opportunity Zone Tax and Tax Credit Act to provide support to tourist-related businesses. Many of these businesses are small and may sometimes be overlooked by the government in efforts to attract jobs to the state. This bill is an updated version of a House bill that successfully passed last year but didn't progress through the Senate Finance Committee. House leadership is collaborating with the Senate to emphasize the importance of aiding small businesses, not just focusing on Wall Street.

Another significant bill that the committee approved is HB 5294, aimed at modernizing West Virginia's farm winery laws. Farm wineries are significant tourist attractions nationwide. Although West Virginia generated approximately $500,000,000 in economic activity through its farm wineries last year, when compared to neighboring states and adjusted for population differences, we were $1 billion below our potential. This bill seeks to align our laws with those of neighboring states, creating a level playing field to capture that missing $1 billion from the state's economy.

January 27th, 2024

As we enter the second full week of the 2024 session of the West Virgnia Legislature it is getting busy.  Many stakeholder meetings are being held, in the meetings we work the small details on bills and make compromises to bring a bill to the floor in a form that can pass.  These meetings are important to the process.  As a citizen legislature each with a different background, we are able to bring different views and ideas to bills to make them better.

Monday was an extremely busy day for me as it was Tourism Day at the Capitol, being the Chairman of the Committee on Economic Development and Tourism, I was in high demand. My day started at about 7AM and ended at 11PM. My day started normal with the daily morning Republican Caucus meeting, then the Monday morning major chairs meeting. 

A group that puts on festival style events stopped at the West Virginia booth at a trade show in November of last year and learned about West Virginia.  They liked what they saw at the trade show, so they made the trek to our Capitol for Tourism Day.  We set up meetings with various venue operators that could meet their needs. The following day they were traveling the state seeing the venues in person.

At 10 we presented a citation to the Secretary of Tourism, Chelsea Ruby on the House floor with well over one hundred people in attendance.  We had meetings with representatives from Snowshoe and Timberline ski resorts.  The ski industry is thriving in the state and is having a phenomenal growth rate.  Timberline failing five years ago was purchased by Perfect Slopes North and with their investment in the facility it is now the top ski resort on the east coast and rivaling those in the west.

After floor session meetings continued.  Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area met to discuss tourism.  Mineral County lies within their area, and they provide many tourism related services including help with grants for things like biking and hiking trails, water trails, signage and more.  Mineral County Commissioner “Dutch” Staggs met with me as he was down at the capitol on tourism day.  We then moved to the Culture Center for a West Virgina Hospitality & Travel Association reception.  The reception featured restaurants from around the state providing their signature dishes to sample.

One of the more notable bills to pass the House this week was HB 4431 which will, if it becomes law, permit the cremation of unidentified remains in state custody.  We were told some of the oldest have been in refrigerated storage since the 1960’s.  DNA samples will be taken, and tissue samples will be preserved for future need.  The bodies are currently stored in refrigerated trailers.

Another bill to pass will help the state attract medical doctors.  HB 4768 increases the number of out-of-state medical students receiving in-state tuition rates who agree to practice for a specific time within West Virginia.  It is believed that the lower cost of tuition will attract those from other states to our state’s medical schools and the requirements to practice in the state will have them stay after their required time is up.

The House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism met and took up a bill entitled HB 4941 sponsored by Delegate Kathie Crouse.  The bill requires the acceptance of cash as a form of payment in any retail mercantile establishment in which food is prepared, sold, or served in this state, or other establishment offering goods or services for sale.  While it is printed directly on our bills “for all debts public and private” some establishments will ignore that.  This bill will put in place a $500 fine for failure to accept cash.