West Virginia targets broadband growth, flood protection

April 28, 2017 GMT

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Two newly signed laws in West Virginia are intended to extend broadband internet service to unreached parts of the state and help it better prepare for major flooding.

The broadband measure acknowledges the Legislature and governor have set a primary goal of making every community and rural area accessible to 21st-century technology. It establishes a council to gather data on existing service, including internet speeds, and map them each year. It also establishes an insurance fund to support expansion projects and authorizes pilot projects by municipalities and cooperatives for underserved areas.

For flood protection, a new state resiliency office will receive funds, coordinate efforts and update plans annually against disasters like the flooding last June that killed 23 people and damaged hundreds of homes, businesses. That law also establishes a joint legislative committee to make recommendations.

“Despite the many state and federal flood protection programs and projects, flooding continues to be West Virginia’s most common and widespread natural disaster,” the bill says. It was passed by the Legislature and signed into law this week by Gov. Jim Justice.

The measure notes that all 55 counties and 32 major watersheds have been affected, more than 280 West Virginians have died in floods over the past 52 years and that have been 27 federal disaster declarations in West Virginia from flooding this past decade alone.

Justice signed several other laws this week. One requires state legislators’ campaign committees to disclose fund-raising events held while the Legislature is in session and report all contributions within five business days, including the sources and amounts.

Justice said he’s calling lawmakers into a special session Thursday to resolve their budget disagreement. He vetoed the version passed by lawmakers as their regular 60-day session concluded this month. Discussions have continued by the Democratic governor, GOP House and Senate leaders and their staffs.

Earlier this week, other new laws were signed to criminalize posting “revenge porn” in West Virginia, allow those convicted of non-violent felonies to petition later to have their criminal records reduced to misdemeanors, and require new mining and construction companies post wage bonds for one year instead of five.

Other new laws criminalize trafficking in the opioid fentanyl, authorize Sunday hunting statewide on private land, prohibit commercial indoor tanning by those under 18, raise the penalty for government supervisors who punish whistleblowers and authorize county boards to offer remote schooling online.

Another ends West Virginia doctors’ ability to waive the legal requirement to notify parents of an underage daughter’s abortion. It allows only a judge to waive parental notification.