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Legislative roundup

Apr. 05, 2013 @ 01:00 PM

Wednesday was the last day for bills in the West Virginia Legislature to pass out of their house of origin. Bills that did not pass out of their house of origin are dead. The last day of the Legislature's 60-day session is April 13. Here's a look at some bills that made the cut:

COMPLETE STREETS: SB 158 encourages the Division of Highways to adopt policies that accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation during the planning, design and construction of all state roadways. Supporters say the bill brings accessibility for all users to the forefront during project planning and, therefore, could save money by not having to add bicycle lanes or pedestrian friendly features in the future.

DRUG ABUSE: SB 108 establishes a team of professionals to track and analyze fatal prescription drug overdoses. The team would review all deaths in which the cause is linked to an unintentional prescription drug overdose as well as document trends and patterns related to the illegal sale and distribution of prescription drugs.

FEED TO ACHIEVE: SB 663 creates the West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act. The bill stipulates that the state Department of Education and county boards of education set up foundations that can accept donations from individuals, estates and businesses to pay for food that is served to children in the schools. The bill's purpose is to provide free meals to elementary students and, eventually, those in middle and high school.

GRAFFITI: SB 116 specifies crimes involving graffiti as misdemeanors and includes punishments of 24 hours to not more than six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense. The jail time and fines increase with each subsequent conviction. A similar bill passed the Legislature last year but a technical error led to its veto by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. That bill contained a felony charge for third offenses, but it was removed from this year's proposal. Punishments of community service and restitution also were removed.

HIGHER EDUCATION: SB 444 gives Marshall and West Virginia universities more investment powers. The bill increases the investment limit for Marshall from $30 million to $60 million, while WVU's investment power increases from $40 million to $70 million. It also gives their respective boards of governors more authority over presidential compensation and capital improvement plans. Currently, those plans must be approved by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING: SB 326 changes the way the state's higher education institutions can request appropriations and how they would be funded.

The bill initially takes 5 percent of the annual allocation and awards the money based on the achievement of certain benchmarks, such as certificate or degree completion; student progression and persistence towards certificate or degree completion; affordability and productivity represented by on-time certificate or degree completion; institution differentiation as represented by a mission focus on research, job placement and work force training; educating priority populations of adult and low-income students; and increasing certificates or degrees in high-need fields.

Each year, another 5 percent would be taken away from the base allocation, up to 25 percent, that institutions would have to earn.

The purpose of the bill is to help institutions focus on graduating students, with a goal of 20,000 additional certificates or degrees earned by July 2018.

HOME RULE: SB 435 continues the municipal home rule pilot program until July 1, 2019, and allows all 232 cities in the state to participate. A state panel must first approve a city's application. The four current participants -- Huntington, Charleston, Wheeling and Bridgeport -- also will remain in the program. The bill also gives home rule cities the ability to adopt a 1 percent sales tax if they reduce or eliminate business and occupation taxes. All other changes to taxation are prohibited.

SEAT BELTS: HB 2108 imposes a primary offense for not wearing a seat belt. Right now the infraction is a secondary offense, meaning officers can only issue citations if the person has committed some other primary offense such as speeding. The fine for not wearing a seat belt, $25, would not change, and drivers would not receive points on their license.

PRISON OVERCROWDING: SB 371 aims to ease overcrowding in West Virginia's prisons and regional jails. It mandates that all nonviolent offenders be released from prison six months early into supervised release programs. Violent offenders who have not been paroled will receive one year of supervision upon their completed sentence.

The bill also includes the reinvestment of $25 million during the next five years for drug rehabilitation programs and increased supervision of inmates after they are released.

SUPREME COURT: HB 2805 makes permanent a pilot program that offers public funds to Supreme Court candidates. The program was established in 2010 and used for the first time last year. The voluntary program would let Supreme Court candidates who opt into the program use up to $300,000 in public funds during a primary election campaign and up to $525,000 in a general election, provided they meet certification guidelines.

Allen Loughry, one of the two winners in the 2012 Supreme Court race, was the lone candidate to qualify for and receive public funds last year.

VETERANS: SB 118 creates "I Support Veterans" and "Next of Kin" license plates for West Virginia residents. The latter is for children of law enforcement officials killed in the line of duty.

The bill was championed by Cabell County resident Woody Williams, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts in World War II. Kentucky also offers license plates offering support of veterans.