WVPB Staff Published

The Legislature Today 2024 Final Hours Live Blog

Updated on Monday, March 11 at 10:15 a.m.

Saturday, March 9 marks the 60th and final day of the 2024 West Virginia Legislative regular session. Once the gavel falls at midnight, lawmakers will no longer be able to consider bills introduced during the past 60 days. 

The only exception is the budget bill. 

The state constitution mandates that if the budget isn’t passed within three days of the end of session, the governor will issue a proclamation saying the legislature can come back together on Sunday to work out the final details. Gov. Jim Justice issued that proclamation on Thursday

One monkey wrench this year affecting the progression of the budget bill, however, is a $465 million claw back in COVID-19 relief money — a demand by the U.S. Department of Education. 

Justice has said his administration is in negotiations to address the situation, but without knowing what will happen, it is difficult to pass a state budget. Many lawmakers have expressed interest in returning in May to finalize the budget — allowing time to deal with the potential claw back. 

Under the state constitution, the budget must be passed by June 30.

This year, there were 2,575 bills introduced. Only 253 have so far completed legislation

Aside from the budget, there are several key bills still up for discussion in both chambers. West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s award-winning news team is following the action throughout the evening.

Check back to our live blog for the latest updates from the West Virginia Legislature. 

You can also watch our live coverage of the The Legislature Today Final Hours free from 8 p.m. to midnight on our WVPB TV live stream.

To read the latest updates from the West Virginia Legislature’s final moments Saturday, click here.

Both chambers have passed a bill to require age verification for the purchase of any tobacco or vape product. House Bill 5084 now heads to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature.

Senate Bill 841 has passed the House, and changes made by the House were approved by the Senate. The bill would broadly reduce unemployment benefits. However it would increase benefits in the first eight weeks, but it tapers off 5 percent each week, down to 45 percent. It also reduces the duration of unemployment benefits by two weeks. 

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said he doesn’t understand the need for this bill due to the health of the unemployment fund and the low unemployment rates in the state. 

“We got people lobbying for this bill working for groups I never even heard of before,” Caputo said. “Who aren’t even from this state, pushing the buttons to get this done.”

The bill now heads to the governor for his consideration.

The Senate has approved four of the more controversial House bills of this legislative session. 

House Bill 4793 is known as the moonshine bill. The bill allows anyone over the age of 21 to manufacture their own alcohol without a license. The bill allows a person to manufacture up to 25 gallons, or 50 maximum per household. No alcohol made for personal use without a license may be sold. The bill passed with a thin margin, 18-14. The bill now heads back to the House.

House Bill 4880 will eliminate one third of the tax on social security recipients who make over $50,000 per year, or married persons whose joint income is over $100,000 per year. The bill phases in a 100 percent tax elimination over three years. The Senate version had triggers that would base the reduction in the social security tax based on the state’s yearly revenue; that bill has since died. The House bill was, however, passed unanimously. Changes were passed in the House and it now heads to the governor. 

House Bill 4883 increases the annual salaries for certain state employees including public school teachers and state police officers. The bill passed unanimously, changes were approved by the House, and it now heads to the governor for his consideration.

House Bill 5262, known as the teachers bill of rights, ensures that counselors are provided the same protections as teachers and that teachers receive compensation for when a teacher student ratio is exceeded. The bill now heads back to the House.

The House has concurred with the Senate’s amended version of House Bill 5105 by a vote of 70 yeas, 29 nays, and one delegate absent. The bill now heads to Gov. Jim Justice for his consideration.

The House has made further changes to a bill to require age verification for the purchase of any tobacco or vape product in West Virginia. The bill is now awaiting further consideration in the Senate.

According to House Bill 5084, the verification must take place via “a valid driver’s license, state identification card, or any valid and unexpired federally issued identification card such as a passport or military identification car.” 

The intent is to prevent sales of these products to people under age 18. Illicit sales are misdemeanors and the bill increases the fines for illicit sales.

**Editor’s Note: This update previously stated HB 5084 had been communicated to the governor. As of 10:40 p.m., the bill is awaiting consideration in the Senate.

A bill that would have prohibited driving slow in the left lane of a highway, except under certain circumstances, has died.

House Bill 5237 traveled back and forth between the House and Senate, finally ending up with a joint conference committee to hammer out a possible compromise.

That committee amended the penalty from a secondary to a primary traffic offense. First time violation would have been a $25 fine. The report was rejected by a 46-52 vote, effectively killing the bill.

House Bill 5105 changes vaccine requirements for virtual public, private and parochial students in West Virginia. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 20 to 12 with two senators absent and now requests the House to concur.

Previous versions of the bill included religious exemptions for all students in West Virginia, but the version that made it to the Senate floor only included religious exemptions for private and parochial schools.

Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, and chair of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, presented the bill on the floor saying he “does not recommend it pass, but my committee does.”

He called the bill an embarrassment on the Senate floor before a vote.

“I took an oath to do no harm, there is no way I can vote for this bill,” he said.

Senate Bill 280 has passed the House, 89-9. The bill would allow teachers in public schools to discuss scientific theories. During committee and floor debate over the bill, the issue came down to science versus theology. Are intelligent design and creationism scientific theories or religious beliefs? Should they be taught in science classes along with the big bang theory?

Pertinent language in the bill reads, “No public school board, school superintendent, or school principal shall prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing or answering questions from students about scientific theories of how the universe and/or life came to exist.”

Some delegates have expressed concerns about legal ramifications in how a teacher may answer a student question, “How did life begin?” 

The bill now heads to the governor.

Senate Bill 841, setting unemployment taxes and benefits, passed the House. The vote was not along party lines but by a count of 66-31.

Late this afternoon, the controversial unemployment bill, Senate Bill 841, was moved off the inactive calendar in the House of Delegates and quickly went to third reading, with several amendments.

Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, asked that the lengthy bill be read in its entirety. Debate over the bill is now ongoing, with delegates working to understand a complicated formula on delivering benefits while keeping a $400 million unemployment fund solvent. The bill still has requirements that an individual shall remain eligible for unemployment benefits only if he or she actively seeks work by conducting at least four work search activities weekly. 

One amendment keeps unemployment benefits at 26 weeks with payouts being a percentage of earnings that decrease as the weeks diminish. A person getting a part-time job while seeking full-time work will continue to get full unemployment benefits.

House Bill 4975 has completed legislation. The bill creates a foster care information system. There were few, if any, other foster care issues proposed this session after declaring the issue a crisis the past few years. 

After several sessions of attempts, House Bill 4911 finally passed, allowing the sale of raw milk in West Virginia. The bill that passed included Senate amendments requiring warning labels on the product, removing the focal point of contention — liability immunity for raw milk sellers.