Reporter’s Notebook: Seventh Week in the West Virginia Legislative Assembly | News, Sports, Jobs
We are less than two weeks away from the end of the 2022 legislature on Saturday March 12 at midnight.
The last major milestone to come is Crossover Day on Wednesday. This is when bills introduced in the House must pass the House and go to the Senate and vice versa with Senate bills.
Sunday was officially the last day for House and Senate bills to come out of committee to have time to be read three days apart before being voted on by the opposing body on Wednesday. But neither the House nor the Senate met over the weekend, so Friday became the default last day for bills to come out of committees.
I sometimes call this particular day the day of tears, because many legislators get upset when their bills don’t make it across the finish line, especially when their bills were on committee agendas the last week. This creates anger even among other members of the same party.
As I write this on Friday, I watch committee agendas change with every browser refresh. House Bill 4001, the broadband bill, literally went on, then off, then on, then off the agenda of the House Finance Committee.
It was back on the agenda of the House Finance Committee’s afternoon meeting on Friday after sources told me a detail had been ironed out.
I have been keeping tabs on this bill since it was picked up by the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee near the start of the legislative session. And almost from the start, it confused even the Republican members of the committee. Half of the bill created a new Legislative Oversight Commission to oversee the new Ministry of Economic Development.
The other half comprises various fund accounts dealing with broadband expansion – funds that have been introduced a few times over the past two years in other pieces of legislation only to die at the end of the session. HB 4001 also includes provisions to punish internet service providers for failing to deliver on their broadband expansion promises.
From the rumblings I keep hearing, the bill caused heartburn among some members of the Republican caucus and sounded more like a Trojan horse. For example: you do not need a bill to create a legislative oversight commission. It can be done with the stroke of a pen by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House agreeing to create it. During the committee process, several delegates questioned why HB 4001 was not two bills.
The bill also gave the Public Service Commission the power to issue “Eligible telecommunications operator” status to companies funded by the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund. These companies promise to complete certain broadband projects or achieve certain service parameters.
The bill gives the Attorney General the power to verify that companies are complying with their obligations. If not, the PSC can impose fines. But the PSC does not regulate internet service providers unless they have a telecommunications component. The PSC can regulate Suddenlink and Frontier to some extent with respect to internet service, but only because one is a cable company and the other is a telephone company. I think the PSC would rather have full control of ISPs or no control, but not a mix of the two.
As someone pointed out to me, usually bills that receive the designation “4001” are supposed to be the top priority of the majority caucus. Is the fact that this bill has had problems a sign of division within the caucus?
I bring this up because there seems to be some bitterness on the issue of the repeal of the Certificate of Need (CON). Pressure from some Republican caucus members to push for repeal began to push back Republican delegates who would otherwise have supported repeal or reform.
I am told that members of the Republican House have been instructed not to make discharge motions to withdraw their bills from committee, or to amend other bills so that their bill blocked be inserted into someone else’s bill, otherwise known as “Christmas tree.” So last week, when they saw several amendments intended to repeal CON in various ways inserted into a bill simply intended to remove birth centers from CON, it did not sit well with some members.
The amendments failed, and the bill passed the next day by a wide margin. And the Senate has a few bills dealing with CON that maybe could also be amended to do a full repeal or a light repeal. But at this point, I think the ground has been salted against repeal of CON, at least for the rest of this session.
As I write this, it looks like what I predicted is coming true. The session was relatively quiet except for a handful of bills intended to appease the Republican base with red meat. There have been a few bills focused on economic development and incentives, but nothing that I can call flagship legislation.
The remaining 13 days will be spent with the House and Senate checking each other’s bills. The budget bill for the next fiscal year should also start moving forward.
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]