CHARLESTON (WVDN) – The West Virginia Senate passed 23 bills during the first day of the 2023 Regular Session, getting a jump start on many of the state’s most challenging issues including addressing the hospital reimbursement rate for PEIA and restructuring the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Nearly all of the 23 bills sent to the House of Delegates for further consideration had been passed unanimously or almost unanimously from the Senate in 2022 or 2021, but never made it into law. This is the second year in a row that the Senate has moved previously passed bills on the first day of the Regular Session.
“When we show up to work, we’re ready to start on time and get the job done immediately,” Senate President Craig Blair said. “All of the bills we ran out of the Senate today have been passed by the legislative majorities before, nearly all of them with unanimous support. We were able to make the first steps toward solving our crisis with PEIA and we’ve started the process of fixing DHHR. I’m proud of the leadership we showed as a body today.”
The first bill, Senate Bill 126, reorganizes the Department of Health and Human Resources into three separate departments: the Department of Health Facilities, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Health. This bill, which is similar to HB 4020 vetoed by the Governor in 2021, was brought about by the failure of the Governor’s study commissioned from the McChrystal Group to provide any substantive plan for changing the organization.
The second bill, Senate Bill 127, passed the Senate unanimously last year as Senate Bill 574 and is intended to move the PEIA reimbursement rate for hospitals to 110 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate. Recently, WVU Medicine announced that as of July 1, 2023, Wheeling Hospital would no longer accept patients covered by PEIA.
Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said last week that this problem has been on the horizon for years, but the people in charge of PEIA have largely refused to make any structural changes to the program or accept the realities surrounding the increased costs of health care.
Additionally, the Senate passed Senate Bill 128 and Senate Bill 129, which are aimed at addressing the governor’s authority relating to declaring a state of emergency or preparedness and the authority of the governor to spend unanticipated federal funds without legislative appropriation. The bills — HB 2003 in 2021 which died in Conference Committee, and HB 2014, signed into law — requires the executive branch to provide written notice to the Legislature after 60 days to extend a state of emergency and lowers the limit the governor may spend of those certain federal funds to $10 million without legislative approval, respectively.
The Senate also advanced Senate Bill 130, the Anti-Racism Act of 2023. The bill, which was passed by the Senate on the last night of the 2022 Regular Session, was completed after midnight and was lost. Blair had committed to passing the bill during a special session in 2022, but it was never added to a call by the governor.
Other bills sent to the House of Delegates for further consideration on Jan. 11 include:
- SB 131, Allowing municipal fire marshals to receive service weapon upon retirement;
- SB 132, Clarifying criminal offense of harassment;
- SB 133, Adding definition of “ammunition” for purposes of obtaining state license to carry concealed deadly weapon;
- SB 134, Protecting consumers against businesses using automatic renewals without consent;
- SB 135, Relating to Uniform Controlled Substances Act;
- SB 136, Requiring persons convicted of certain offenses to undergo psychological or psychiatric testing and have treatment plan to be eligible for probation;
- SB 137, Clarifying offenses of kidnapping and unlawful restraint;
- SB 138, Clarifying secondary sources are not law and public policy of West Virginia in certain instances;
- SB 139, Requiring each county board of education to ensure all its meetings are open to public through in-person attendance and broadcast live on its website;
- SB 140, Updating offenses of extortion and attempted extortion;
- SB 141, Adding Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation employees working at certain institutions to West Virginia Emergency Responders Survivor Benefits Act;
- SB 142, Modifying procedures to settle estates of decedents;
- SB 143, Relating to Adopt-A-Stream Program;
- SB 145, Allowing county boards of education participating in operation of multicounty vocational center to withdraw;
- SB 146, Modifying regulations of peer-to-peer car sharing program;
- SB 147, Creating pilot program for recovery residences in Cabell County;
- SB 148, Relating to municipalities required to be represented on county authority boards; and
- SB 149, Exempting certain organizations from property taxation.
The bills passed from the Senate today await further consideration and action by the House of Delegates. The 2023 Regular Session ends March 11.