The Legislature concluded their business at the stroke of midnight on Saturday, March 8, 2014, bringing an end to the regular 60-Day Session. The Legislature is currently in extended session for the budget. It is unclear at this time if the Governor will have a Special Call for any bills that either a) need to be passed or b) need to be vetoed and corrected.

For the record, 1,876 bills were introduced this session. Of those, 199 bills (104 House Bills and 95 Senate bills) completed legislation and are awaiting the Governor’s signature. About 20 bills made it through the majority of the process, but never made it through the final steps in time. About one-third of the bills that did complete legislation were rule-making review bundles or supplemental appropriations.

The WVWA team worked harder this session than we can ever remember. The Unfair Trade Practices Act (which includes minimum mark-up on cigarettes) was debated in numerous committees and on the floor of the Senate on several occasions. In the end, we feel like we protected our industry and in the process gained new supporters through our testimony and educational efforts. We are stronger as a group today than we were prior to the session.

We are proud of the bills we worked on behalf of our industries to defeat. With a great deal of effort our industries will NOT see:

  • A tobacco tax increase - HB 4191/SB 534

  • Removal of Unfair Trade Practices 7% and 4% mark-ups - SB 491/368 and HB 4389

  • A beer tax increase - HB 4292

  • A soft drink tax increase - HB 2060

  • Prohibiting beer and wine sales at self-scan registers - SB 527

  • Prohibition of certain purchases by SNAP recipients - SB 262

General Business Defeats

  • Creation of the Government Fraud Prevention Act (originally the False Claims Act) - HB 4001
  • Relating to the disclosure of information on campaign contributions and spending - HB 4463

WVWA Successes

The Legislature did not pass any legislation to increase the current tobacco tax. Throughout the session, there was quite a bit of discussion about raising the tax, so we consider this to be a great win for our industry this year.

Below are some of our other successes of the 2014 session:

HB 4237 - Prohibiting the sale, distribution and use of electronic cigarettes, vapor products and other alternative nicotine products to persons under the age of eighteen
This bill clearly states that electronic cigarettes cannot be purchased by those 18 and younger. We are glad that this piece of proactive legislation passed.

HB 4147 - Relating to emergency preparedness

This piece of legislation was introduced by the Governor. It is very similar to the Governor being able to declare a State of Emergency. A state of preparedness, which cannot last longer than 30 days, will be used prior to a major storm or event. (An example might be similar to the Boy Scout event this summer when the Governor actually called for a State of Emergency to allow for federal and out-of-state help to deal with crowds, etc.) We were very successful in making sure that the following language was added in this legislation: “Whenever the Governor declares a state of preparedness, the provisions of this article (unfair trade practices act) shall only apply to those items or services specifically set forth in the proclamation.” This is a huge win for us. The Governor has this ability when calling for a State of Emergency but most often times does not take that liberty when announcing.

HB 4549 - Clarifying the regulation of nonintoxicating beer brewers and distributors, agreements, networks, products, brands and extensions of a line of brands
We spent a great deal of time on this ABCA-introduced bill that supported WV beer wholesalers throughout WV. This bill seeks to clarify the regulation of nonintoxicating beer brewers and distributors, agreements, networks, products, brands and extensions of a line of brands. There was resistance from out-of-state breweries, so it was important that we step up and support wholesalers in this State.

Disappointment

Raising the minimum wage – HB 4283

This bill passed just prior to midnight on Saturday. It was inevitable that a minimum wage increase was going to happen this year. It was the priority of both the Senate and the House. Raising the minimum wage polls well with voters. In the U.S., 71% of the public thinks that the minimum wage should be increased. The majority feel that WV citizens should earn a “living wage” and that $15,080 a year is not adequate to live on. Thirteen states raised their minimum wage on January 1, 2014. Business and healthcare professionals had a deal with labor to raise minimum wage in WV by $.25 on January 1, 2015, $.50 on January 1, 2016 and $.75 on January 1, 2017. Governor Tomblin even came out in favor of this “go slow” approach that raises the wage $1.50 in three years instead of two. The approach was developed to protect Medicaid funding, benefit levels (which were not adjusted with the minimum wage increase) and border stability. At the end of the evening, President Kessler and Majority Leader Unger get the credit for ignoring the deal and instead passing the bill with a $.75 cent increases on January 1, 2015 and January 1, 2016. We can only hope that the Federal level increase of $10.10 or something over $8.75 goes into effect before ours does. At the end of the day, we are very disappointed, but regardless of the testimony, grass roots efforts, etc... this issue was bigger than us and one that we ultimately had very little influence over.

Session Highlights

A major win for the business community this session was the defeat of HB 4001, the Government Fraud Prevention Act (earlier known as the False Claims Act). The bill provided for qui tam proceedings, which are lawsuits brought by private citizens against a person or company who is believed to have violated the law in performance of a contract with the government or in violation of a government regulation, when there is a statute which provides for a penalty for the violations.

The general business community opposed this bill, pointing out that, in this bill, there were no caps on attorney’s fees, no limit on what constitutes fraud, no requirement to exhaust administrative remedies and a retroactivity provision that could extend back 10 years.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the Future Fund, the Legislature did little to encourage businesses to stay or relocate to the State. SB 461, Creating the Future Fund, fosters infrastructure improvements by taking excess monies in severance taxes for the establishment of the fund. It would only kick in when the annual revenues top $75 million and then would take 25 percent of the excess. The money can only be used for economic development, infrastructure and education enhancement. Very few business friendly bills passed this session. It is our hope that 2015 will be different.

The other big bill of the session was SB 373, Relating to Water Resources Protection. Countless hours were spent in two Senate committees, three House committees and floor session on this piece of legislation. The final bill, that we have yet to see, is nearly 100 pages. Rules will be developed prior to the 2015 Session which will determine how the water industry and aboveground storage tanks are governed.

Interims

During the interims, we will work closely with legislators and legislative staff on studying the Unfair Trade Practices Act. We will volunteer to have national experts come to West Virginia to testify and will also be working on informational pieces for our members to share with the legislators. Since this is such a complicated issue, it is our hope to keep it contained and precise.

Election

In West Virginia, the Primary Election will be held on May 6th and the General Election on November 4th. We encourage you to get involved in the Election process. It is important that we elect individuals that support our businesses and know our challenges. If you would like to discuss candidates, please feel free to call Jan Vineyard in the Association office. Also, we would appreciate a donation to the WVWA PAC that supports those who support us. 

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