Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Key Bill Status - 2004 Session

Via the W.Va. Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Report newsletter (PDF):

Key Bill Status - 2004 Session

Insurance Reform
The West Virginia Chamber and the WVSHARE coalition are pushing for key reforms in the insurance industry, particularly elimination of laws that make West Virginia out-of-step with the rest of the nation. A key component is establishment of a fraud investigatory unit in the state Insurance Commission. Governor Wise has called for the creation of the fraud unit and consumer advocate. The House passed its stripped down version, and the measure now is awaiting action on the Senate side. Trial lawyers have begun a television campaign decrying insurance reform and tort reform.

Tobacco Settlement Bonds
The Governor apparently surprised legislative leaders and Finance Committee chairs with his proposal to securitize part of the state’s Tobacco Settlement Funds. The proceeds, estimated at approximately $630 million, would be used to pare down long-term debt and provide funds to shore up the Workers’ Comp self-insured program. Finance Chairmen from the House and Senate have stated serious reservations about this proposal.

Water Use
The state Senate is about ready to begin work on a bill (S.B. 163) to affirm the state’s rights over water and call for a one-year survey of usage by the West Virginia DEP. The Governor has introduced his own bill.

Taxes

  • Governor Wise has proposed increasing the state cigarette tax by 20 cents and hiking the smokeless tobacco tax. Sentiments in both houses indicate a lack of support for this proposal. Medicaid is facing a $220 million deficit. Attention is turning to DHHR program budget cuts.
  • A joint legislative interim committee has given its support to the Chamber’s proposal to exempt technology services from having to pay the state’s consumer sales and use tax. Interest on both seems solid for this proposal. Fiscal note being prepared. House expected to take this up soon.
  • In addition, Governor Wise has embraced three tax-related proposals from the Vision Shared. Those include eliminating the state’s corporate registration tax (and replacing it with a flat $50 fee) and another giving businesses a 50 percent tax credit up to $500,000 a year for investing in technology companies' research and development programs. The third proposal would expand an existing tax credit program for startup technology companies by allowing them to swap their credits with larger businesses. Under the plan, more profitable businesses could invest up to $1 million in the startups in exchange for their credits. Because of the budgetary situation, legislators will be scrutinizing these bills carefully for fiscal impacts.

Budget

Lawmakers will be working to craft a new fiscal budget for FY04-05 and overcome a projected $120 million revenue shortfall. Budget hearings underway. There seems to be little consensus at this time on the governor’s plan to balance the budget.

Overtime
The West Virginia Nurses Association and the West Virginia Hospital Association are supporting restrictions on mandatory overtime requirements for nurses and other health care professionals. Under the consensus bill, hospitals wouldn’t be allowed to force nurses – or other health care professionals -- to work overtime except during emergencies. The bill will be considered tomorrow in the Senate Labor Committee. The state’s Labor Commissioner has expressed concerns about this bill’s “unfunded mandates.” Questions have arisen regarding language and parameters dealing with disciplinary actions.

Tort Reform
The West Virginia Chamber and other groups are urging lawmakers to enact several tort reform measures, particularly restricting punitive damage awards, ensuring degree of liability is based on comparable degree of fault, preventing double-dipping of compensable claims, and enacting legislation to overturn the Supreme Court’s unprecedented “no proof, no problem” medical monitoring decision. There are concerns in the House that because of the inability to garner enough votes for the joint and several liability clause in the insurance bill, there will be no action on these matters in the lower body.

Workers’ Comp
The West Virginia Chamber and the West Virginia Coal Association are advocating legislative changes to “repair” the state’s deliberate intent statute. Basically, employers covered under Workers’ Comp are shielded from lawsuits by injured workers unless that injury was proved to be due to “deliberate intent”. However, attempts are being made to circumvent this through a “misinterpretation” of the law that has arisen thanks to recent Supreme Court rulings.

State Republicans would like to see the Legislature pass a bill requiring the state to open the state’s Workers' Compensation system to private insurers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to originate a bill to correct problems with dates in last year’s reform bill.

Health Care Funding
As part of its budget deliberations, the state will work to maintain sufficient funding to match for federal Medicaid dollars. The increase last session in the state’s cigarette tax was dedicated to the state’s Medicaid fund.

Health Insurance
Governor Wise has proposed new programs to help generate affordable basic health insurance coverage options for those businesses who currently don’t provide coverage. The governor’s proposal (H.B. 4007) is scheduled to be taken up today in the House Banking and Insurance Committee. The Senate is working on this proposal as well.

ATV Legislation
The Governor is seeking, once again, to enact safety regulations for ATV operators and passengers, particularly for children. The House passed its ATV bill.

Annexation
Legislation may be introduced to correct an issue involving the population density requirements for annexations. Businesses in some regions are concerned that some municipalities are using the lack of population density requirements to manipulate annexing businesses without having to pick up the responsibility of nearby homeowners. One annexation bill (H.B. 4119) was reported out of House Judiciary Committee. The bill deals with the treatment of hotel-motel taxes in annexation situations and the dedication of those proceeds to bonds.

Gaming
Proponents are expected to introduce legislation to allow table games in certain areas of the state. The bill would allow local referendums in counties with racetracks.

EQB
The West Virginia Chamber and other business groups are calling on lawmakers to divide and separate the rule-making and appeals powers of the current Environmental Quality Board. The West Virginia EQB function needs to be revised to be only that of an appellate board, reserving water quality rule-making for the more appropriately staffed and funded West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection.

Home Rule
Several municipalities are calling for enactment of legislation that would allow them to expand their taxing options and to generate more revenues to deal with fiscal problems.

Public Employee Pensions
The state is struggling under a $9 billion actuarial deficit, which has worsened somewhat recently due to economic factors.

Teacher Pay Raises
Education groups are again calling on the Governor and lawmakers to enact pay raises for state teachers.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

eBay yanks online auction of West Virginia after 56 bids

The Daily Mail notes here (and the AP notes in a separate article here) that the entire state of West Virginia was up for sale on eBay yesterday. The bid was up to almost $100 million before the auction was stopped.

The state was described as "a surefire item to impress the ladies, rub in your brother-in-law's face or impress Japanese business clients...."

Monday, January 12, 2004

Print calendars for free

It's a new year, and you may be looking for an easy way to get a printed 2004 calendar. Go to timeanddate.com to help you with this task. You can print yearly calendars, and monthly calendars of all types, and the site even allows for some customization (such as large type for those who are visually challenged). Best of all, it's free. I printed the small yearly calendar and taped it to the wall beside my computer for quick reference.

Legislators to tackle array of issues

This article in the Dominion Post notes the following "key issues" for the 2004 Legislative term:

* Cigarette taxes. Gov. Wise plans another cigarette tax raise to cover a $20 million deficit in the Medicaid budget. Hospital leaders are lobbying legislators, emphasizing the importance of federal Medicaid dollars to the state. Wise announced last week that his budget for 2005 includes a 20- to 25-cent tax increase per pack of cigarettes, bringing the state total to 80 cents per pack.

* Insurance fraud. Legislators are considering strengthening insurance fraud legislation, and Gov. Bob Wise wants to create an insurance fraud task force. One state business leader said fraud is partly responsible for what he says are high insurance costs .

* K-12 education. Legislators are considering cuts in all areas, including limiting the $34 million program for children ages 3 and 4.

* Higher education. Burdened with seven years of state funding cuts, institutions such as WVU, with 17.8 percent cuts since 1996, are saying 'Enough is enough.'

* All-terrain vehicles. Proposed legislation aims to get children to wear helmets, to prohibit them from transporting other children, and allowing vehicles to be driven one mile on paved roads.

* Workers compensation. How to implement reforms passed last year, including more investigators and prosecutors, could be discussed.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Court: Professor can't testify in Doritos suit

A man has sued Frito-Lay under a products liability theory, alleging his throat was damaged because of the rigid texture and triangular shape of Doritos.

This article in the Dominion Post notes that the expert lined up by the plaintiff is not going to be permitted to testify. (The trial court judge said the expert's study ''smacked of a high school science fair project'' and wouldn't admit it as evidence.)

Those darn Doritos are addictive, too, which only compounds their capacity to inflict severe injury on the unsuspecting consumer. And what about those ridges in Ruffles potato chips? Those things are engineered to fracture in your mouth and cause maximum irritation. I think the FDA should require all chip manufacturers to sell their chips in a paste or sludge form to be squeezed out of a tube (like a push-up).

Let's take a poll: Which of the following is the most irritating?

(a) Doritos
(b) Ruffles
(c) Frivolous lawsuits