Discussion and Delay on Film, DHHR, Co-tenancy, Intermediate Courts

Jan 25, 2018

Discussion and delay. That was the theme for some notable pieces of legislation Thursday. While the House and Senate moved on some measures in their respective committees and floors, some bills were set aside and left for another day.

In a Thursday morning House floor session, delegates debated Senate Bill 263, which would eliminate the West Virginia Film Tax Credit. The bill was on Third Reading and up for a vote. Discussion around the bill began when Del. Dianna Graves, a Republican who said she has worked in the film industry, stood to oppose passage of the bill.

“We talk about industry diversification within the state. We're just starting to have a decent film crew industry in the state. I know a lot of them personally,” said Graves. “I've had -- I can't tell you how many -- phone calls and emails where these people are going to have to move across -- most of them are planning on going to Kentucky -- if we discontinue this film tax credit.”

Last month, legislative auditors called for the elimination of the state’s film tax credit, citing the less than $1 million economic impact per year as not substantial enough to keep it in existence. The West Virginia Film Office, once an independent agency and now operated by the state Division of Tourism, administers the tax credit. Funded at $5 million annually with no per-project caps, the film tax credit calls for a minimum spend of $25,000.

Many Democrats echoed Graves’ call to keep the tax credit in place. Del. Josh Barrett, cited states such as Georgia who have built up their film industry through a growing tax credit.

“The lady from the 38th, who is an expert in the industry, said that the $25,000 minimum spend is part of the problem, and we should raise that. We should have a floor of $250,000 or $500,000 dollars to have them have that minimum spend, so that we are attracting out of state film production companies,” Barrett said.

Republicans argued that the credit didn’t bring money to West Virginia. Before closing discussion, Minority Leader Daryl Cowles moved to delay action on the bill until Friday.

“Most of this money did not help West Virginia at all. We just simply don't have the infrastructure, and the credit isn't large enough to build that infrastructure, and we're just throwing money away. It's not a good return on investment,” said Cowles, before his motion to delay.

That theme of delay carried on into afternoon committees in the House as well. In House Energy, a bill addressing land owner rights in relation to natural gas was also held back. House Bill 4268 would allow for oil and gas drilling on a piece of property, when owned by multiple persons, if three-fourths of the owners agree.

“I had a request for a minority to defer action on the bill in committee until next Tuesday -- giving all of their members a chance to pose any other questions and members to formulate amendments they might want to offer to the legislation,” said House Energy Chair Bill Anderson.  “It seemed to be a reasonable request. I've accommodated that. I believe that we can move forward on the legislation next Tuesday.”

The House Health Committee picked up on the trend of delaying action on bills with House Bill 4014, a bill that aims to split the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources into four separate agencies. Without explanation, House Health Chair Joe Ellington pulled the bill from the committee’s agenda.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held back a bill of their own. Legislation that would create an intermediate state court of appeals, Senate Bill 341, was discussed at length but did not go to a vote in the committee.  

Notable legislation that did move on Thursday includes a bill involving drones, which passed the House on a 78-18 vote. A bill limiting taxpayer-funded abortions through Medicaid passed House Health, and a bill to increase teacher pay cleared the Senate Finance Committee.