Interims Mean Variety of Issues for Discussion


Legislative interims wrapped up at the Capitol earlier this week and while we brought you some major headlines, like questions over Frontier’s broadband expansion project using federal grant monies and a proposed bill meant to make state purchasing laws more clear, here are a few more issues lawmakers were discussing.

Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability:

New Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling presented the department’s response to a performance evaluation by Pennsylvania-based Public Works.

Aside from finding ways to deal with high employee turnover rates and increase the safety of workers in the field, Bowling said the organization will restructure into three divisions, each with a deputy to oversee multiple bureaus and report back to the Secretary, leaving bureau chiefs more time to spend improving the functions of his or her office.

“When everybody reports to the Cabinet Secretary it’s going to delay a decision,” Bowling said. “If you’re able to separate logically the divisions into something that makes sense, then you put deputies in place that are there to present information to the Secretary so the Commissioners of the Bureaus can go out and do their jobs.”

The three divisions will be the Division of Health, the Division of Human Services and the Division of Public Insurance and Strategic Planning.

Joint Judiciary Committee:

Dr. Allen Collins, a professor and assistant director of resource management at West Virginia University, presented his research on how split estates effect a surface owner’s thoughts on horizontal drilling.

Split estates are portions of land where one person owns the rights to the surface and another owns the mineral rights below, something not uncommon in West Virginia. According to Collins, over 40 percent of the completed wells in the state were located on split estates.

Of the 154 surveys sent out, 43 percent responded by either completing the questionnaire online or on paper. Of the respondents, 62 percent were split estates.

Fifty-five percent of respondents identified at least one problem with drilling, the most common being land damage or damage to the surface after drilling was completed. An average of four problems per respondent was identified.

Collins said his survey showed someone with only surface rights to the land was 22 percent more likely to identify a problem with drilling than mineral rights owners, but dissatisfaction decreased if surface owners received non-monetary compensation like better roads.

Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability:

Gilmer County Superintendent Ron Blankenship updated legislators on the inter-county school being built on the Lewis-Gilmer County line. A consolidation of Troy Elementary in Gilmer and Alum Creek Elementary in Lewis, construction on Leading Creek Elementary School began in August.

Blankenship told legislators the schools are six months away from operating under a joint governance board which would be made up of both county superintendents, both county border presidents and a representative of the state superintendent. For now, the two counties are still operating on their original Memorandum of Understanding, but that board is expected to be in place by the beginning of the 2014 school year.

Construction of the school is expected to be completed by December 2014, but Blankenship said because of the combination of students from two counties into one building, they have decided to postpone moving into the building until the beginning of the 2015 school year.