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Legislators work on final bills of session

March 11, 2018 GMT

CHARLESTON — On the final day of what will be known as a historic session, the West Virginia Legislature worked well into the night to pass the final bills of the 2018 session.

All agreed the atmosphere Saturday was different than past final days, mainly due to the passage of the state’s budget by 1 p.m. For more than 30 years, the Legislature has had to go into an extended session in order to pass a budget, including last year when the session extended into June.

The budget, which Gov. Jim Justice said in a tweet he would sign as soon as it hits his desk, includes a 5 percent across-the-board pay raise for state employees, $29 million to fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency and $14 million for the retirement program. There are no changes to single line items from last fiscal year and no funds are taken from the Rainy Day fund.

The passage of the budget bill was followed by the back and forth of conference committees and the passage of several other bills. Following is a summary of what passed:

Work requirements for SNAP on way to passage

After some back and forth between the House and the Senate and two conference committees, the Legislature was on its way to passing House Bill 4001, which will implement work requirements for some West Virginians to be eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits.

Should it be signed by the governor, the bill will require able-bodied adults without dependents between the ages of 18 and 49 work, participate in a work program or volunteer for at least 20 hours a week to be eligible for SNAP.

The bill provides exemptions, amended in conference committee to be in accordance to federal law.

These include those responsible for the care of a child or incapacitated household member; medically certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment; pregnant; or those already exempt from the general SNAP work requirements.

The Senate had amended the bill to remove the 2021 deadline for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to stop seeking the federal waiver to the requirement statewide, but as part of the conference compromise, that deadline was moved up to 2022. The bill does require DHHR report to the Legislature on the impact of the work requirement by 2020 with recommendations, and future legislative bodies could change that deadline or remove it altogether.

Along with the work requirements, the bill expands DHHR’s ability to investigate fraud and abuse of the program, along with allowing the department to track out-of-state spending.

As of press time Saturday night, the conference report had been passed by the House but was awaiting Senate consideration.

Medical marijuana bill left in question

As of press time Saturday night, the House had yet to pick up a bill relating to medical marijuana, which was passed last session.

The bill was amended by the Senate on Saturday evening, removing an earlier Senate Judiciary Committee amendment.

The new version of the amendment allows the Bureau of Public Health to study the benefit of the leaf form of marijuana for medical use, along with reducing the number of dispensaries allowed from 100 to 50. It also removes the reduction of criminal punishments for possession of marijuana.

Bill to dismantle Department of Education in the Arts passes

Justice said in a tweet he will seriously consider a bill to dismantle to Department of Education and the Arts before he signs it.

House Bill 4006 will transfer the agencies under the department’s direction to the state Department of Education and state Department of Commerce.

The agencies and programs affected include the Center for Professional Development, the Division of Culture and History, the Division of Rehabilitation Services, Energy Express, the Governor’s Schools, Special Olympics and Volunteer West Virginia.

The House Democrats have a petition out urging Justice to veto the bill because they say there is too much uncertainty regarding the fate of some of those programs.