West Virginia’s state senators and delegates were already scheduled to meet in Charleston from August 7 to 9 for interim meetings. Then on August 6, Governor Jim Justice called a special session to address budgetary issues and other issues that the governor, in conjunction with House and Senate leaders, agreed needed to be addressed by the legislature now rather than waiting for January 2024. The special session and the interim meetings were conducted at the same time (see sidebar for explainer of how the legislature meets).
Bills that passed in special session
Governor Justice asked for action on 44 issues. The legislature passed 35 bills which are either effective on passage or awaiting the Governor’s signature (see the online version of this article for a link to the legislature’s bill status website). Here’s a summary of some of the bills relevant to our local community:
Adjustment to child support calculations — The definition of gross income that is used to determine child support was amended to exclude student loan payments. How our local delegation voted — For: Sens. Barrett, Rucker, Delegates Clark, Espinosa, Hardy; Not voting (absent): Delegate Ridenour.
Funds for fire protection — A trio of bills were passed to provide funds for fire protection. The funds will be administered by the WV Department of Homeland Security and will be provided to the All-County Fire Protection Fund, the County Fire Protection Fund, and the Fire Protection Fund. How our local delegation voted — For establishing the fire protection funds and providing funds from the State surplus to these funds: Sens. Barrett, Rucker, Delegates Clark, Espinosa, Hardy; Not voting (absent): Delegate Ridenour. For making an appropriation to all three funds: all members of our delegation voted yes.
State department of corrections — Bills were passed to address staffing issues with WV prisons and jails. Correctional officer vacancies are 30 percent across the state with some facilities having a vacancy rate of 60 percent. Bills were passed to increase starting pay and pay scales for correctional officers as well as to provide one-time bonuses for support staff. How our local delegation voted — All members of our local delegation voted for this legislation.
Budget items — Many bills focused on moving money from surplus funds to specific needs. These included funds for highway maintenance and equipment ($150,000,000), the Veterans Nursing Home ($1,000,000) and the Behavioral Health Program of the Department of Health & Human Resources ($5,225,000). How our local delegation voted — All members of our delegation voted for this funding.
Personal property tax clarification — During the 2023 regular session, the legislature passed tax rebates for personal property taxes. The rebates are effective for the 2024 tax year and potentially future tax years. Confusion has arisen as to which payments are reported for the 2024 tax year, as current personal property tax bills are dated 2023 and are due September 1, 2023 (first half payment) and March 1, 2024 (second half payment). The legislation passed during the current special session clarifies the answer — second half personal property taxes that are due on March 1, 2024 are reported on the 2024 tax return even if they are paid in 2023 (WV Tax Division form TSD 454 has been updated to reflect this clarification). How our local delegation voted — All members of our local delegation voted for this legislation.
Susan Benzinger is a retired tax attorney and active volunteer in Jefferson County. Most recently, she has been instrumental in setting up the new Blue Ridge Food Pantry to provide food assistance to residents of the easternmost portion of Jefferson County (FB: BRFoodPantry)By Susan Benzinger