Articles Posted in State Legislation

freight-train-1304806-m.jpgAfter the chemical spill into the Elk River that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians, the state legislature took unprecedented action. The House of Delegates unanimously passed, 95-0, legislation that creates a new slate of state regulations, requiring the state Division of Environmental Protection to inspect and license storage tanks that are above ground, such as the Freedom Industries tank that leaked 10,000 gallons of chemicals into the Elk River.

Among other provisions, the legislation will require that water utilities that use surface water identify possible contamination sources located near the water intake valve; that all above-ground storage tanks be registered with the state Division of Environmental Protection, with regular inspections being made by the Division; that the Division determine which storage tanks above ground are already regulated by a different agency and thus did not need a second review; and that by July 2015, all water utilities have a source water protection plan in the event of another spill that could contaminate the water.

In addition, the House passed an amendment 83-10 that requires the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health to gather and store medical information on people exposed to the chemicals in order to determine the possible long-term health effects.
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scales.jpgThe “Home Rule,” or “municipal home rule,” is a legal term referring to the power of local governments to act independently to regulate public health and welfare of their communities without approval or oversight by the state government. Some states have self-executing home rule provisions in their constitutions, some require legislation to enact the rule and other states allow the home rule in cities and towns with a certain minimum population. Several states have no provision for the home rule at all.

The West Virginia constitution provides for the home rule through enabling legislation. This means that a law must be passed by the state for the home rule to be functional. In 2007, Governor Joe Manchin signed the home bill into effect in West Virginia. In 2008, a state panel implemented the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program, through which it chose several cities throughout the state, including Charleston and Wheeling, to participate in a five-year test run of the program.

During the test run, the participating cities would have more power to conduct local business. Since the pilot program was started, Charleston has passed several new city ordinances that have greatly improved the speed and efficiency of dealing with building code and zoning violations. The Charleston Planning Department says the home rule is working exactly the way they hoped it would and that the statistics generated in the department’s annual report show that the use of the rule is working in Charleston.

west virginia river.jpgThe U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform recently released the Harris Study, which ranked West Virginia’s court system as 50th in the nation. The study was designed to rank states in order of business climate conditions, but several legal advocacy groups feel that the study is simply an attempt by corporate lawyers to denigrate state legal systems for their own benefit.

Both The West Virginia Association for Justice and the Center for Justice and Democracy based in New York have released statements in opposition of this study, claiming that the facts in it are false and unfair. The Center for Justice and Democracy cites professor Theodore Eisenberg, Professor of Law and Statistical Sciences at Cornell University: “The Chamber’s willingness to vilify states and counties to promote both itself and legislation may be the product of the same mentality that has led to shocking business failures.” The Center also claims that the study used “deplorable methodology,” and quotes from Eisenberg’s findings:

“The Chamber’s survey violates the elementary principle that evaluation of legal system performance should be based on input from both sides to disputes,” noting the obvious: “asking only one side to a dispute about a system will yield biased results.”

street.jpgOn March 2, 2010, the West Virginia Senate passed a bill that proponents say could save you a significant amount on your auto insurance. Senate Bill 394 allows the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to start using an electronic verification system that will alert law enforcement immediately if a driver is operating a vehicle without insurance.

Right now, insurance companies must notify the DMV of uninsured drivers, then the DMV must notify the West Virginia State Police. At this point, state troopers are instructed to find uninsured vehicles and remove the license plates. But, this method has proven to be too time-consuming and laborious given limited state resources. According to an article in the Herald Tribune, slow communication between the DMV and insurance companies has also made it difficult to keep track of uninsured drivers.

If the House passes this new bill, however, insurance companies with clients in West Virginia would have to submit proof of insurance directly to the DMV. This information would be stored in an electronic database that would be shared with law enforcement. The new system would be accessible directly from state trooper patrol units for use at traffic stops, accident sites, hit-and-run scenes and police chases. The information would show up as soon as the officer runs the license plate number.