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The Dome Report - 2020 West Virginia Legislature Updates, Issue 4
February 06, 2020
The 2020 Regular Session of the West Virginia Legislature just reached the 30th day, or its half way point. As of today, the House has introduced 1289 bills, while the Senate introduced 725.

We will continue reporting on and tracking the progress of significant legislation during the course of the session.

During the legislative process, certain critical deadlines are imposed by the Legislature that impact the consideration of pending bills and their chances of success. Those dates are as follows:
  • February 11: Last day to introduce bills in the House of Delegates. This does not apply to bills originating in committee. 
  • February 17: Last day to introduce bills in the Senate. This does not apply to bills originating in committee. 
  • February 23: Bills are due out of committee in house of origin.
  • February 26: Last day to consider bills on third reading in house of origin ("Cross Over").
  • March 7 (midnight): Session ends.

HB 4368, HB 4567, SB 339
A word about the status of medical cannabis in West Virginia is appropriate. Since the passage of Senate Bill 386 in 2017, West Virginia's program seemed stalled, lacking a financial institution, and certain amendments required to the original legislation that would make the cannabis market attractive to companies who would want to invest in the state. Happily, with the passage of House Bill 2538 and Senate Bill 1037 in 2019, both concerns were addressed, and the Office of Medical Cannabis opened the 60-day application phase in December 2019.
Nevertheless, there is still interest in refining the Medical Cannabis Act of 2017 and further opening the market. For example, House Bill 4368 expands the definitions of “serious medical condition” to encompass additional qualifying conditions.

Additionally, House Bill 4567 allows medical cannabis to be dispensed as dry flower or plant flower and in edible forms. It also removes the prohibition on smoking medical cannabis. Both bills are double-referenced to Health and Human Resources & Judiciary.
Since neither bill appeared to move in committee, advocates searched for, and seemingly found, an alternate vehicle by which to expand the forms of delivery for medical cannabis. Senate Bill 386 gave the Department of Health & Human Resources statutory authority to promulgate emergency rules to implement the provisions of the Medical Cannabis Act and to provide further detail for the operations of growers/processers and dispensaries. That bill also permitted the Department to expand the forms of delivery for medical cannabis via rule, instead of general law. Therefore, when the medical cannabis rules were bundled in Senate Bill 339 and sent to House Judiciary for consideration, the advocates seized the opportunity to amend them in order to permit the dispensaries to provide medical cannabis in plant form. This amendment must be adopted by the House and approved before it goes back to the Senate for concurrence.

SB 94
So far, nine bills have completed legislation, and we've already reported on Senate Bill 94which eases access to the voting process for persons with physical disabilities.
HB 4103
The Legislature also enacted House Bill 4103, a bipartisan bill that clarifies that the Office of Drug Control Policy is under the direction and supervision of the Secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services. This seemingly innocuous bill eliminates within state government a certain organizational disconnect and now concentrates accountability to better coordinate and direct its response to the opioid crisis that has devastated families and overwhelmed many local communities.
Other bills of interest include:
SB 275
The Intermediate Court of Appeals of West Virginia advanced out of Finance Committee and is on first reading in the Senate at the half way point. Assuming no delays, it is expected to pass out of the Senate on February 10.

As previously reported, Senate Bill 275 would create an Intermediate Court of Appeals which would hear, by right, all appeals from Circuit Courts after June 30, 2021. Appeals from decisions from that court to the Supreme Court of Appeals is by discretion only. Decisions of the Intermediate Court are accorded precedential effect by the lower courts. The judges are elected to 10-year terms by the citizens in non-partisan elections. The bill creates a northern and southern district within West Virginia, each with a three-judge panel to hear appeals arising out of its geographical area and is expected to cost $6.3 million. Additionally, as amended, the bill significantly reorganizes workers' compensation appeals. Notably, the bill transfers all powers and duties of the current Workers' Compensation Office of Administrative Law Judges to the three-judge panel of the Workers' Compensation Board of Review. The Office of Judges shall issue final decisions on all objections in its possession on or before September 30, 2021, and will then sunset on October 1, 2021. The Intermediate Court of Appeals will have exclusive appellate jurisdiction over all decisions issued by the Office of Judges and the Board of Review after June 30, 2021.
SB 284 
Finally, we previously reported on Senate Bill 284, which would only come into effect if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") were declared unconstitutional by the federal courts where a challenge by West Virginia and 17 other Republican-led states is pending. Stated concisely, the purpose of the bill is to preserve some of the most popular aspects of Obamacare, such as prohibiting insurance providers from excluding coverage of pre-existing conditions; disallows lifetime or annual limits on the dollar value of qualified benefits; and permitting coverage for a dependent child, at the option of the policyholder, until the dependent child reaches the age of 26. The bill creates a state government commission tasked with identifying state or federal sources of funds to replicate the disallowed tax credits under Obamacare. The bill was introduced in and discussed by the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee this week. At the meeting, the Attorney General spoke in favor of the bill and urged its passage even though the federal cases challenging Obamacare are not likely to be decided until sometime in 2021. The other speaker on the bill was the leader of the Hospital Association who expressed concern that the commission might look to hospitals to help replace any tax credits lost or disallowed. A vote is not scheduled until its next meeting on February 10.
 If you have any questions about the 2020 Session, please contact our Government Relations Practice Group.

Government Relations Alexander Macia