Jackson County delegate highlights major bills passed in the 2021 session

Suzette Lowe
Delegate Steve Westfall has represented the 12th district for the past nine years.

Delegate Steve Westfall said this legislative session was unlike any he has seen in his nine years as a lawmaker.

Not only was the pandemic a major factor, but construction inside the Capitol made it logistically more difficult.

“With restricted access to the Capitol due to COVID, we didn’t see our constituents in person very often,” he said. “There were no special days which traditionally highlighted groups, businesses and organizations around the state. Also, having limited rooms available for committee meetings was a scheduling issue, but I will say Speaker Roger Hanshaw kept things moving very efficiently.”

Even with the challenges, Westfall said that approximately 200 bills were passed into law.

“We had about 3,600 bills introduced,” he said. “Some, of course, got more attention than others.”

For the first time in his memory, Westfall said that the House of Delegates voted in complete agreement opposing a bill. The 100-0 vote defeating the income tax repeal was a headline across state newspapers.

“This was a true bipartisan vote,” Westfall stated. “We just couldn’t agree with all the tax increases and new taxes that would have to be put in place to offset the loss of this income. Even the state Senate only passed it narrowly by 18-16 vote. As you can imagine, the governor wasn’t pleased, but it wasn’t something we could approve.”

The state’s balanced budget was passed on the 59th day of the legislative session. Westfall explained that if it is not passed by the 55th day of the 60-day session, a one-day extension goes into place automatically.

“By being able to pass that budget, as we have the past seven or so years, that extra day was not needed,” he said. “That is an accomplishment that makes me proud.”

Westfall detailed the bills he feels make the most impact on the people of the state. Most of these he voted for, with the notable exception of one.

EDUCATION

House Bill 2001: Creating the West Virginia Jumpstart Program

This bill, which Westfall supported, allows individuals, families or employees to contribute tax-free dollars for use in pursuing a trade or occupation. Westfall said it works like the existing Smart529 plan which has allowed contributions to college funds.

House Bill 2012: Expanding Public Charter Schools

Going into effect June 1, this bill allows two virtual charter schools to be created state-wide as well as 10 total in-person and virtual charters to launch every three years. Charter schools still must be approved by the local boards of education, but an appeal process has been put into place. Westfall, who supported this bill, said he was surprised to not receive communication from his constituents regarding what, in the past, has been controversial.

House Bill 2013: Creating the Hope Scholarship Program

Westfall did not support this bill which establishes an Education Savings Account that will go into effect July 1, 2022, with applications opening March 1, 2022. Approximately $4,600, depending on the school aid formula, will be deposited into transparent accounts monitored by the West Virginia treasurer’s office. These funds can be used for private school or home-schooling purposes. Westfall said his biggest concern was the home-schooling aspect of the bill which led him to vote against it.

JUDICIAL

Senate Bill 275: Intermediate Court of Appeals

Westfall supported this bill which creates a court of appeals focusing on civil cases involving administrative appeals, workers compensation and other civil actions.

MEDICINE

House Bill 2368: Mylissa Smith’s Law

Another 100-percent bipartisan approval was given to this bill which establishes guidelines for the frequency of allowable visits during emergency situations like the current pandemic. The bill was named in honor of a Kanawha County Hospice nurse who died alone in the hospital after contracting COVID.

House Bill 2024: Expanding Telehealth

This bill expands the use of telemedicine to all medical personnel and allows audio-only telephone calls to be considered telehealth.

House Bill 2005: Surprise Billing/Transparence in Medical Costs

Protection will be provided to West Virginians from predatory health care providers and unexpected charges for emergency services or facility fees. Patients will be given cost estimates when they schedule health care services.

ECONOMY

Senate Bill 277: COVID Jobs Protection Act

In essence, this bill prevents employees or others from suing a business or institutions of higher learning, churches or voluntary organizations on the grounds of contracting COVID. An employee is still able to file for a claim for workers compensation.

House Bill 2075: Utilizing New Technology to Safely Provide Liquor, Wine and Beer Licenses Greater Freedom

This bill allows a two-year reduction in license fees and eases the restrictions on permits regarding outdoor and street dining, allowing temporary licenses to provide drinks at a limited number of state fairs and festival. Westfall said that the liquor laws that had been in place for decades were ‘cleaned up.’

House Bill 2026: Remote Worker Program

Westfall said this is a bill he strongly supported. People who can work from home, and who are willing to move to West Virginia from other states, will be given $12,000 for one year or $25,000 total for two years. In addition, for one year these individuals can access state activities, such as parks, for free. The intent is to get more employees into the state, making it easier for people to relocate and take advantage of all West Virginia has to offer. The money to pay for this does not come from state funds. Brad Smith, former chief executive officer of Intuit, donated a large sum of money to cover the cost. Smith, who currently lives in Silicon Valley, is from Kenova, W.Va.

The biggest challenge facing the legislature in the upcoming months is redistricting. Westfall said the census numbers which will officially be released in the fall show that West Virginia has declined in circulation. As a result of that, districts must be redrawn. Westfall says this will give an opportunity to make each delegate represent about the same number of people.

“This will be more equitable in the long run,” he said.