The dates below are the significant deadlines in this year's regular session:
- February 12: Last day to introduce bills in the House of Delegates. This does not apply to bills originating in committee.
- February 18: Last day to introduce bills in the Senate.
- February 24: Bills are due out of committee in house of origin.
- February 27: Last day to consider bills on third reading in house of origin.
- March 9 (midnight): Session ends.
By Friday, January 25, the 17th
day of the 60-day regular session of the West Virginia Legislature, the House of Delegates had introduced 677 bills while the Senate introduced 439. To date, no legislation has completed passage in both chambers, though we can anticipate several bills will cross that finish line in this week.
Interestingly, two of those bills that may pass the Legislature this week were ones vetoed last year by Governor Justice.
Senate Bill 1, otherwise known as the "last dollar in" community and technical college tuition bill, passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday, January 23. This legislation requires the creation of Advanced Career Education ("ACE") programs and the WV Invests Grant Program, both of which are for the purpose of increasing access to career education and workforce training. This bill, while it has bipartisan support, has raised the issue of what impact a new tuition assistance program will have on the traditional four-year colleges and universities who offer similar academic programs to those at community and technical colleges. It is safe to assume these concerns and other issues related to them will be raised in the House of Delegates.
The Senate Education committee passed an originating education reform bill late Friday, strictly on party lines. The bill combines the promised pay raises for teachers, school service personnel, and other public employees along with provisions that would permit the establishment and funding of charter schools in West Virginia for the first time. Among other things, the legislation would also permit teachers to bank personal days for retirement credit, give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise, require teachers to sign off annually on union dues, and establish provisions that would permit and regulate Educational Savings Accounts. The legislation also stipulates if there’s a work stoppage that closes schools, those who participate would not be paid. One unique aspect of the proposed reform bill is a non-severability clause, saying if any part of the bill is struck down then the entire Act would all be void. It remains unclear whether this legislation will also have a second stop at the Senate Finance Committee after it is officially reported to the floor on Monday.
The House of Delegates continues the debate over reform of the state's foster care system while also stipulating the use of a managed care model. This legislation passed the House Judiciary committee late last week and likely will be voted on by the full House of Delegates later this week.
The first bill likely to complete legislative action is SB 119.
The purpose of this bill is to provide documents prepared by or on behalf of a healthcare provider for the purpose of credentialing or reviewing health care providers are confidential and privileged and not subject to discovery in a civil action or administrative proceeding. In addition to providing a detailed list of the documents protected from discovery, it also extends those protections to hiring, firing and credentialing decisions made by the review board. SB 119 is on second reading in the House on January 28 and is expected to complete legislative action by January 29. Once it is presented to Governor Justice, he will have five days, excluding intervening Sundays, to act on the bill.
The other bill that may complete legislative action this week is HB 2351, a bipartisan bill requiring healthcare insurance companies to accept electronically transmitted requests for prior authorizations. The Senate Health Committee amended the House bill substantially. The amended bill, in addition to other requirements, mandates that insurance companies respond to such requests within seven days for non-urgent requests and two days where a delay could jeopardize life or health of the patient. Insurance companies and MCOs are required to develop the necessary forms and portals and shall accept one prior authorization for an episode of care, which is defined as a specific medical problem, condition or specific illness being managed across a continuum of care and includes tests and procedures initially requested, excluding out of network care. Unrelated additional testing or procedures will require a separate prior authorization. Finally, where a healthcare practitioner has performed an average of 30 procedures per year and in a six-month time period has received a 100 percent prior approval rating, the insurer shall not require the submission of a prior authorization for that procedure for the next six months. This exemption is subject to review and auditing.
Since the Senate amended the House bill, the House must concur in or reject those amendments. In the event the amendments are rejected, differences in the two versions of HB 2351 will have to be reconciled by the two chambers.
SB 4 was advanced by the Senate Government Organization Committee and, if it becomes law, will provide qualifying municipalities with increased home rule powers, provided the municipality did not interfere with certain state laws. While extending the availability of the program to other municipalities around the state, SB 4, as amended, does add new restrictions on the powers of municipalities. For instance, they cannot enact ordinances restricting professional licensing, or enforcement of state building or fire codes, and they can't override the state's right to work law. Also, the bill provides that voters may demand a referendum on any city law or regulation and must also approve any bond sales if sales tax proceeds are used as the funding source. The bill is on the first reading in the Senate on January 28, and is expected to complete action in that chamber by mid-week. The lead sponsor of the bill is Senator Ryan Weld
(R-Brooke), who is an attorney for Spilman Thomas & Battle in Wheeling.
House Joint Resolution 17
House Joint Resolution 17 was advanced by the House Finance Committee and is now pending in Judiciary. The Joint Resolution provides for an amendment to the West Virginia constitution to establish the valuation of tangible inventory, machinery and equipment personal property directly used in business activity shall be determined exclusively as provided by law. While this particular tax brings in approximately $250-300 million a year to the state, West Virginia appears to be in the minority of states that uses this form of taxation. Indeed, the inventory tax is often cited as an obstacle to attracting out of state investment. As mandated by the constitution, joint resolutions require two-thirds majority approval of both chambers before the amendment is placed on the ballot for a simple majority vote by the people. If HJR 17 successfully passes both chambers, and is approved by the voters, only then could the legislature enact a law to eliminate this tax.
The Senate Judiciary Committee started work on SB 266, the Governor's bill creating an intermediate court of appeals. As we reported here before, this bill would create an intermediate court of appeals that would hear appeals from all administrative, civil and workers' compensation cases. As introduced, the bill would have divided the state into two districts, each with a three-judge panel to hear cases, though the Senate Judiciary will reduce that to one single district. Other amendments to the Governor's bill are expected when they take up the bill this week. If the bill advances out of Judiciary, as it is expected, it will then go to Senate Finance for further consideration. Of particular importance is the annual cost to the state from the creation of this new branch in the court system.
HB 2474 is relating to a reserving methodology for health insurance and annuity contracts. It passed House Banking and Insurance on Thursday, January 24 and is now in House Judiciary. The purpose of this bill is to prescribe the minimum standard of valuation for health insurance contracts. The legislation is needed for the State of West Virginia to remain accredited with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
HB 2476 was introduced on January 17 and addresses the valuation of a motor vehicle involved in an insurance claim. The purpose of this bill is with respect to a cash settlement for a motor vehicle loss insurance claim, substituting the requirement that the settlement value include an amount equal to an excise tax imposed for the registration of vehicles with a requirement that the settlement value include an amount equal to the consumers sales tax levied when a vehicle is purchased. The amendment brings §33-6-33 into conformity with the taxation of motor vehicles, following the repeal of the 5 percent excise tax and replacement with the consumer sales tax.
The Corporate Governance Annual Disclosure Act passed House Banking & Insurance on Thursday, January 24 and is now in House Judiciary. The purpose of this bill is to require insurers writing more than $500 million, or insurance groups writing more than $1 billion, in annual premiums to maintain an internal audit function providing independent, objective and reasonable assurance to the insurer’s or insurance group’s audit committee regarding the insurer’s governance, risk management and internal controls. The bill also requires an insurer or insurer group to annually provide a confidential disclosure regarding its corporate governance practices. The legislation is needed for the State of West Virginia to remain accredited with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
HB 2480 is relating to the regulation of an internationally active insurance group and passed House Banking & Insurance on January 24. It is now in House Judiciary. The purpose of this bill is to provide authority to a designated state insurance commissioner to act as a group-wide supervisor for an internationally active insurance group. For a holding company group to be considered an internationally active insurance group, it must meet various criteria, including premiums written in at least three countries, at least 10 percent of premiums written outside the United States, and total assets greater than $50 billion or total premiums greater than $10 billion. The legislation is needed for the State of West Virginia to remain accredited with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
HB 2536 relates to Mine Subsidence Insurance. It passed House Bakning & Insurance on January 24 and is now in House Judiciary. The purpose of this bill is to clarify that if a policyholder has other insurance or other sources of remuneration for a loss covered by the mine subsidence insurance, the Mine Subsidence Insurance Fund is only liable for the portion of the loss which the other insurance or other source of remuneration will not cover.
The government relations team
at Spilman will be tracking and reporting further on these and other bills and major developments during the legislative session that may impact your business interests in West Virginia. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact one of our professionals.