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Legislative roundup

Mar. 01, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Wednesday was the last day for bills in the West Virginia Legislature to pass out of their house of origin. The last day of the Legislature's 60-day session is March 10. Here's a look at some bills that made the cut, followed by those missed the cross-over deadline:

BILLS THAT PASSED HOUSE OF ORIGIN

AUTISM: House Bill 4260 clarifies legislation passed in 2011 that required public and private health insurers to cover applied behavioral analysis, an important treatment for children diagnosed with the autism spectrum of neurological disorders.

The bill makes clear that yearly and monthly caps on autism insurance benefits apply only to applied behavioral analysis. Insurers have argued that the limits apply to all autism-related treatment.

COPPER THEFT: Senate Bill 528, also known as the Scrap Metal Prevention Act, targets copper thefts by requiring scrap metal dealers to keep records of a seller's address, phone number and driver's license and also register their business with the state Tax Department. The bill also would prohibit people from possessing communication cable without a proper license.

The bill is part of a comprehensive approach to curb metal thefts across the state. Senate Bill 212 makes it a criminal offense to disrupt emergency service communications by stealing or damaging copper lines, fiber optic cable and other equipment.

DUI: Senate Bill 60 charges drunken drivers with a felony if they cause an accident that results in serious bodily injury. The crime currently is a misdemeanor. The proposal is similar to a proposed House bill known as Andrea's Law that did not make the cross-over deadline. The bill would have raised the punishment and fines for several DUI crimes. DUI causing death, for example, would have been escalated to life in prison. The prison term is two to 10 years. The bill was named after Andrea Bailes, a 14-year-old student at Point Pleasant Junior High School who was killed in November in a vehicle accident on W.Va. 2 in Guyandotte. The car she was riding in was struck by a truck driven by Steve Stover. Stover, who died in the accident, was intoxicated at the time of the accident and also had eight prior DUI convictions.

FELON CANDIDATES: Senate Bill 518 prohibits convicted felons from running for or holding public office. The proposed legislation was introduced in the wake of Jerry Weaver, a former Lincoln County assessor who was convicted of felony vote-buying charges in 2005, filing to run for Lincoln County sheriff last month. Weaver has since withdrawn his candidacy.

GRAFFITI: Senate Bill 408 makes defacing property with graffiti a crime. The bill considers marking, scratching, or painting property with a word, figure or design as graffiti. A first offense would be a misdemeanor. Violators would face up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine if the damage is worth less than $1,000. For damage worth more than $1,000, they would face up to one year in jail and a $10,000 fine.

INFRASTRUCTURE FUND: Senate Bill 390 authorizes unspent tax revenue to be used for road and public utility projects.

The bill would send half of year-end cash balances into an infrastructure reserve fund. Grants would also be available to cities to repair or extend water and sewer lines. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed the funding in his State of the State speech in January to help make repairs to state roads.

Funding for the infrastructure improvements would only be available if the state's rainy day fund reached 15 percent of the $4 billion general fund.

MUNICIPAL PENSIONS: Senate Bill 634 allows cities to adopt a "public safety assessment fee" to help pay down their unfunded police and fire pension liabilities. The fee, which has to be authorized through a local ordinance, is based on the square footage of structures in an amount not to exceed 2 cents per square foot. The bill also allows the state to match the revenue generated by the local fees. Huntington officials have not taken a stance on the legislation, which was crafted by the city of Charleston. However, it would generate approximately $1 million a year in Huntington, city Finance Director Deron Runyon said.

PRISON OVERCROWDING: Senate Bill 342 attempts to address prison overcrowding by focusing on substance abuse treatment for new inmates and a smoother transition process for inmates preparing for release.

The bill requires the Division of Corrections to broaden substance abuse treatment programs for non-violent offenders, except for those who were sentenced for a crime involving children. The court system then would have the discretion to place non-violent offenders who complete the programs on probation.

The bill also places inmates who have six months remaining on their prison sentence on supervised parole. Inmates now are released from prison without any supervision.

SEAT BELTS: Senate Bill 139 makes failure to wear a seat belt a primary traffic offense. Not wearing a seat belt is currently a secondary offense, meaning it's only enforceable if a driver is stopped for another violation. The bill also reduces the fine from $25 to $15 for each infraction.

TEXTING: Senate Bill 211 makes texting while driving a primary traffic offense and using a cellphone or other mobile device without hands-free equipment a secondary offense.

BILLS THAT DIED

BUCKS FOR BRAINS: House Bill 4311 would have added $20 million to the state's Bucks for Brains Research Trust Fund in fiscal year 2013. The new pot of money would have come from the state's general fund and continue to be used as matching qualified donations and pledges for West Virginia and Marshall universities. The fund was created by 2008 legislation and set aside $50 million worth of matching funds for the two universities.

FUNDRAISING: Senate Bill 445 would have prohibited state lawmakers from accepting contributions for their re-election campaigns during the 60-day legislative session. The bill aimed to make the legislative process more transparent and prevent lobbyists from contributing to campaigns in return for support for pieces of legislation.

HOME RULE: House Bill 4113 attempted to alter the Municipal Home Rule Program, of which Huntington is a participant, by prohibiting future participant cities from altering their tax structure. House Bill 4431, meanwhile, would have terminated the program altogether. Both bills died in committee.

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