WV Senate discusses several pieces of legislation - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

UPDATE: Future Fund bill advances in WV House committee

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UPDATE, March 3:

Senate Bill 461 advanced from the House Judiciary Committee March 3 and now will go to the House Finance Committee for debate.

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, introduced the bill and said he was pleased with the House committee's diligence on passing the bill. He said having such a fund would not effect this year's budget, or next.

"We wouldn't (have to borrow from the Rainy Day Fund) had we had a Future Fund 25 years ago," Kessler said. "We could fix these roads, we could do the big things we need to do but we haven't had the good sense to."

During the committee meeting, Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, moved to amend the proposed legislation to include historical and cultural renovation and improvement. 

"As we look into a diversified economy, historic and cultural resources are going to draw people in," he said. "We must look at all parts of a diversified economy."

Skinner's amendment was adopted by the committee.

Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, expressed concern about the bill, saying it would be subject to potential changes before 2020 if the resolution were to become law since it is not a constitutional statute. 

Under the proposed legislation, no money may be spent or appropriated before 2020.

However, Skinner said Senate Joint Resolution 14 would constitutionally protect the Future Fund. 

The resolution, if adopted, would essentially propose a constitutional amendment to the state constitution that would protect the principal of the West Virginia Future Fund and specify how the interest from the fund would be spent.

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, offered an amendment that would create an industrial water extraction fee. The amendment was rejected. 

When it came time to speak to the bill, Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, said he thinks the proposed bill would do much to help the coal industry, which would greatly help the district he represents as a whole.

The bill is scheduled to be discussed in the House Finance Committee March 3 or 4. The 2014 regular legislative session ends March 8.

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Original story, Jan. 31, 2014: 

Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, introduced a bill Friday he has been pushing for nearly a year — the Future Fund.

Senate Bill 461 would set up the statutory structure to create a future fund.

As the bill is written now, if it were to pass, 25 percent of anything more than $175 million made in oil and gas severance tax would be set aside for at least a period of six years.

The money would be unanticipated and would come in handy to improve roadways in the Mountain State as well as for increasing teacher salaries, Kessler said.

Several lawmakers have expressed their support for the bill, including Senate Majority Whip Bill Laird, D-Fayette; Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne; Sen. Art Kirkendoll, D-Logan and Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia.

Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates have also expressed interest in the bill, including Speak of the House Tim Miley, D-Harrison; Delegate Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley, and Delegate Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur.

The fund, according to the way the bill is written now, would be used as a way of conserving a portion of the state's revenue derived from the increased revenue proceeds received by the state as a result of any new oil and natural gas production as well as other funding sources as the Legislature may designate in order to meet future needs. 

The bill also would keep the fund's principal untouched, with only interest income used. 

The Future Fund will also would have to remain untouched for six years after the legislation is enacted.

Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, introduced a bill Jan. 30 that he is passionate about as well. His bill would be a step to end childhood obesity.

Unger's bill, nicknamed "Move to Improve," would address physical activity and the importance of it in the state. He said it would address public health issues children face today.

"West Virginia ranks high in the area of obesity, also hypertension that comes from unhealthy lifestyles," Unger said. "What we're trying to do with the Move to Improve Act is to encourage moderate to vigorous physical activity."

The bill would require at least 30 minutes of physical activity to occur during the course of a school day for elementary and middle school students.

"The idea that integrating physical activity also stimulates the mind," he said. "At least 50 percent of physical education should be physical activity."

The bill has passed the Senate Health and Human Resources committee and will be heard in the Senate Education Committee before a first reading in the Senate next week.