This was the last week to introduce bills for the 2016 legislative session.
The Senate closed their final day of bill introduction with 699 bills introduced in 41 days (more than 100 more than last year). The House also introduced about 100 more bills than were introduced last year, with almost 1,200 introduced in 42 days.
Out of the 1,600 bills introduced last year, only 262 made it entirely through the process to become law.
195 bills were introduced in the past week. We were happy to see a few bills in that mix that seemed directly relevant to community development, including bills relating to rail-trails, community collaboration projects, and digital learning.
Here’s what caught our eye, in our final week of new bills:
Senator Maynard of Mingo County introduced two pieces of legislation on Tuesday aimed at promoting tourism and recreation around the use of old, unused and abandoned railways.
SB 683 is a classic one-line bill, amending the parks and recreation code to allow for old and abandoned railways that are located near lakes, rivers and creeks to be used for recreational purposes. There is no definition of what constitutes “old and abandoned”, though that is likely to be discussed and possibly addressed if the bill is brought up by the Judiciary Committee before Sunday (the final day bills are due out of committee).
SB 684 is a bit more substantive. It provides the Director of the Division of Natural Resources with the authority to lease out unused or abandoned coal railway lines to excursion tourist trains (similar to the Polar Express in Elkins, we assume.) These excursions can make use of existing railroad track on old coal rail lines, ensuring that the track is put back in good use before it falls into deterioration and disrepair.
The bill specifically recognizes that the “shifting economic climate in this state” necessitates that “creative and novel approaches to reenergizing economic growth must be employed.”
Senator Maynard is speaking The Hub’s language with these words. And he’s speaking a language that resonates with much of the Senate – more than a third of the chamber signed on as co-sponsors of this bill. We hope it gets some traction and move through in the short time left this year.
Minority Economic Development Advisory Team
Real, transformative community development is led by approaching development from a systems perspective – what needs to be shifted, grown or catalyzed systematically in order for our communities to survive and thrive?
Most bills don’t attempt systematic change; most legislation is focused on incremental fixes and changes to the current system.
That’s why we’re so excited when we see a bill like SB 649 get introduced.
This bill would expand the Economic Development Authority to include a Minority Economic Development Advisory Team. Made up of a variety of key stakeholders including representatives from city economic development offices, community development corporations and others, the team would serve to catalyze economic development support for minority communities, minority-owned businesses, encourage creative lending to minority business enterprises, and encourage economic development for minority communities in West Virginia in a more systematic and intentional way than has been heretofore attempted.
Bills like these – big thinking bills addressing issues that aren’t frequently discussed – tend to take a few years to pass. We’re hopeful that this one might get some traction this year. It only has to compete with 93 other bills to get on the agenda of Senate Government Organization before Sunday.
Food Production Act
Senator Miller introduced this bill on the last day of session, presenting a proposal to a challenge that has been discussed many times in conversations among local foods stakeholders.
Among many policy challenges and solutions relating to local foods is the confusion and sometimes dysfunction around state regulation of local food growers and vendors. Currently local foods are regulated to some degree by the Department of Agriculture and to some degree by the Department of Health and Human Resources, and the local public health departments.
The Food Production Act proposes to consolidate all regulation of food production under the Department of Agriculture. Recognizing that food safety is of paramount importance, SB 662 states that “the food production industry will be best served if there is one central set of standards and a single state department that is responsible for food production safety.” It also requires the Department to promulgate various rules relating to food production and food safety.
The bill is double referenced, likely to be an insurmountable challenge with only a few days left for bills to be considered by committees. It is reference to the Agriculture and Judiciary committees.
Permitting Municipalities to Collect Unpaid Fees
Unpaid fees, particularly unpaid demolition and property maintenance fees, are an eternal scourge for cities trying to address abandoned and dilapidated buildings.
Delegate Moffatt of Putnam County proposed a straight-forward solution to this challenge in HB 4615.
Any person who owes the municipality money for fees, and doesn’t pay, shall have the corresponding amount withheld from their income tax returns by the State Tax Commissioner, who will then send that amount to the city.
Fees that could be withheld include unpaid utility bills, trash and refuse bills, and fees relating to demolition, landfill costs, or “other fees incurred by the municipality within municipal boundaries.” There’s no comment about what impact out of state ownership might have on this proposal.
We’re constantly looking for creative, aggressive proposals to address dilapidated buildings, though it’s important to make sure they do more good than harm. We’ll be watching to see if this bill gets taken up by House Finance this week.
Local Energy Efficiency Partnership Programs
A companion bill to SB 96, 4684 is the corresponding House bill, introduced on Tuesday by Delegate Hanshaw.
The Senate version of this bill has been stuck in the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee for the past month and appears unlikely to move. 4684 faces equally challenging hurdles, with a double reference to a minor and major committee: Political Subdivisions and Finance.
There is a high likelihood that the Political Subdivisions Committee had its last committee meeting last week, which means this bill is dead upon arrival. The committee still has 37 bills on its docket though, so it might meet again before the chambers move into full floor sessions after cross-over day.
That would be most likely to happen on Thursday, so keep an eye out if you are particularly interested in this bill.