CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Ahead of a key legislative deadline on Wednesday, the pace of processing legislation ramped up significantly this past week in the House of Delegates, with lawmakers advancing bills to promote economic growth, get more young people in the workforce, and expand broadband access for more West Virginians.
The House on Friday spent several hours refining and eventually passing overwhelmingly a key economic development proposal introduced this session.
Delegates voted 94-4 to pass House Bill 4001, which creates the West Virginia Impact Fund, a fund designed to help attract outside capital to West Virginia that can be used to open new large-scale business projects and create jobs.
“I truly believe this bill will use free-market, capitalist principles to revolutionize how we advance economic development in our state,” said House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, lead sponsor of the bill. “We’ve all talked for years about the need to diversify our state’s economy to promote long-term growth, and I believe this bill will help accomplish that.”
In addition to the fund, the bill creates the Mountaineer Impact Office, which would identify potential business projects that could benefit from the fund’s investment of non-taxpayer dollars. The Impact Fund could then invest in these projects, creating new jobs for West Virginians while also producing an investment return for fund investors.
“Unlike efforts of the past, this bill is not about picking economic winners and losers, or using taxpayer dollars and special tax incentives to lure potential new business,” Speaker Hanshaw said. “Instead, this bill leverages the power of the capital that’s already out there waiting for investment – and there are literally trillions of dollars around the world looking for potential investment – and creates a vehicle for our state to capture it and put it to work creating jobs in West Virginia.”
House Bill 4001 now goes to the state Senate for further consideration.
The House on Tuesday also unanimously passed a bill to the Senate that will offer new opportunities for rehabilitation to West Virginia juvenile offenders, which could potentially keep them out of the criminal justice system later in life.
House Bill 4670 updates and expands the provisions of the state’s juvenile restorative justice program. Restorative justice incorporates evidence-based practices into a community-based program designed to help the offender understand the harm their actions impose on the victim and community. It also organizes processes in which the offender, individual crime victims, and other community members work together to find constructive resolutions.
“In West Virginia, too many of our young people feel like their lives are irrevocably destroyed from mistakes they made as kids,” said lead sponsor Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha. “This is a smart justice reform designed to keep our kids from falling into the endless trap of cycling in and out of jail for the rest of their lives.”
Delegate Graves said this could help turn the tide of the state’s low labor force participation by keeping more young West Virginians on the path to being productive members of society.
“This is workforce development,” she said. “If we can help these young, impressionable children learn from their mistakes and get back on the path of being a productive citizen – instead of spending money locking them up in jail time and time again – then what a difference that could make in not only that child’s life, but West Virginia’s future.”
Meanwhile, the House on Thursday voted 98-1 to pass House Bill 4015, which would update broadband enhancement and expansion policies in the state. The bill streamlines permitting processes and allow the state to contract with private carriers to use state-owned properties and buildings to locate and deploy broadband wireless infrastructure.
This is the latest in a series of bills passed since 2017 to inspire broadband expansion in the state.
“House Bill 4015 and the reforms passed in recent years are innovative concepts that position West Virginia to take full advantage of the latest wave of high-speed broadband infrastructure investment,” said Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell. “Our efforts will help us capitalize on recent developments – such as the commitment for infrastructure development from the Sprint-T-Mobile merger, and the FCC’s announced $9 billion fund to expand 5G wireless in rural America – to dramatically increase high-speed broadband coverage across West Virginia.”
Finally, Wednesday, Feb. 26, marks the 50th day of the legislative session, a day also known as “crossover day.” Under the Legislature’s Joint Rule 5, this is the last day for a bill to be passed out of the house in which it was introduced. (This rule does not apply to the budget or supplemental appropriations bills.)
Because of this, committees worked long hours this past week to review and approve as many House bills as possible so they can be placed on the calendar and read three consecutive days, as required by the state Constitution, before the crossover day deadline passes on Wednesday.
As of Friday, the House of Delegates had passed 174 bills and send them for consideration in the Senate. The regular legislative session ends Saturday, March 7.