Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier

The end is near! This 2022 legislative concludes at midnight on March 13. Here’s the latest on several major bills.

FILM TAX CREDIT. HB2096 reinstates the film tax credit in West Virginia. I proudly co-sponsored this bill in the Senate and voted yes. This will put us on par with states like Georgia who attract movies, documentaries, and TV shows for filming. Because we’ve lacked the tax credit in the past, the “We Are Marshall” movie was largely filmed in Georgia and a documentary on the Hatfields & McCoys was filmed overseas. We also have the wonderful TV show “Barnwood Builders” filmed right here. They are wonderful ambassadors for our entire state and deserve our support to continue shooting here. The film industry provides good jobs to keep our kids in state. This is a huge win!

DHHR REORGANIZATION. HB4020 splits the Department of Health and Human Resources into two agencies. The idea is that the department has grown too large to effectively be managed on its own. The data and my personal experience back up that idea. This one agency accounts for $7 billion of spending each year and is the largest government agency in the state by far. With more children in the state’s care, more foster children, more abuse and neglect cases, higher overdose rates, let alone a public health pandemic…the system is overwhelmed. So I do support major reorganization. However, I am unsure if I will support the particular bill before us now as it keeps one secretary in place and appoints two new deputy secretaries who report to the governor. It should either split or stay together under new leadership; rearranging the chairs on the deck of a sinking ship isn’t good enough.

FOSTER CARE BILL. HB4344 is called the “foster care” bill, though it actually is about all sorts of child well-being issues. It is the most important bill before us this year. Provisions include pay raises for Adult and Child Protective Services workers, a website to provide public data about the foster care system, reforms of the MDT process which exists to help kids in the system, reforms to the child abuse hotline (related to the incident involving the five children who died in Greenbrier County last year), and protections for the foster care ombudsman who acts as a watchdog over DHHR within the system. The bill passed the House 99-1 but stalled in the Senate. After intense behind-the-scenes efforts, I am hopeful it will pass committee tomorrow and be up for a final vote Saturday. Several attempts have been made by the majority to strip key provisions, and I am working to reinstate them. Stay tuned.

INSULIN CAP. HB4252 caps the price of insulin at $35/month. It also caps the price of certain equipment such as test strips and pumps. With a high rate of diabetes across the state and costs soaring, this will immediately put money back in the hands of citizens. The bill stalled in Senate Finance this week, but we were able to work out the issues behind the scenes and get it passed through committee on Wednesday. I anticipate it passing the Senate on Saturday.

STATE PARKS. HB4408 takes the prize for causing the biggest stir this session. An initial version of the bill stoked fears of state park privatizations, fears I shared. However, during the process the bill was heavily amended to protect the beauty, affordability, and integrity of our state parks. The effect of the bill will be to allow private companies to provide new recreational opportunities in our state parks that fit with the park’s intent. For example, Watoga is known for its dark, quiet atmosphere, and nothing will threaten that. But if a company wanted to build a new water feature at Hawks Nest, it would be considered. Pipestem has already done some of this by adding a splash pad and lake inflatables using a private vendor for all park visitors.

WV BUILD ACT. HB4502 is a governor’s bill that seeks to incentivize new home building. We are experiencing a housing shortage right now across the state. This bill would provide contractors tax incentives by waiving several taxes relating to home builds including the sales tax on all materials. I’ll share details once the bill is final.

That’s the view from the back pew, where it is my privilege to serve you. 

Senator Stephen Baldwin is the minority leader and a local pastor. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.

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