The 84th session of the West Virginia legislative session got underway on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 at the capitol in Charleston. This first week of the session is seemingly off to a good start. I’m optimistic that there seem to be issues on both sides of the isle we all can work together on to better the lives of all West Virginians. One of those issues includes exempting Social Security retirement benefits from state income tax. I am passionate about this matter, as it affects so many people in our district.

West Virginia is only one of 13 states currently imposing a state income tax on Social Security retirement benefits. It makes no sense that an individual is taxed on money earned and paid into Social Security while working, and then taxed once the money is received in the form of benefits.  It is time we end the tax and lessen the burden on our retirees. Other bipartisan issues appear to be limited criminal justice reforms and making community and technical colleges more affordable for our citizens.  More divisive issues, such as intermediate courts in the legal system, are certain to appear later during the session.

The House Judiciary Committee, of which I am a member, immediately went to work and voted to revive several bills from last year’s session which were not passed into law. Those bills include HB 2164, which affords civil and criminal litigants the right to appeal a lower court’s decision to the Supreme Court and receive a written decision on the merits.  Currently, the Supreme Court has discretion as to which appeals are heard.  The House voted unanimously in favor of HB 2164, thereby sending it to the Senate for vote.  If passed into law, the bill would certainly weaken the need for any intermediate court in the state. Intermediate courts would expand the government by creating a whole new court system  with more judges, more staff, and millions in expense to be paid with taxpayer money at a time when legal case loads are significantly lower than years past in West Virginia.

• HB 2183 defines the scope of where a person may be arrested for driving under the influence.  The bill is a response to the latest 2012 court case in which a person was arrested and convicted of DUI for operating an ATV on his own private property.

• HB 2184 removes the current law restricting Keno lottery games to bars and clubs by allowing the game to be offered by any licensed lottery retailer.

• HB 2185 allows rescue of animals left confined and unattended in vehicles when the animal faces injury or death due to extreme heat or cold or insufficient ventilation.  The bill permits defined “agents” acting in their official capacity to rescue the animal with full criminal and civil immunity for any damage caused.  The agent must leave contact information for the owner and cannot perform a search of the vehicle absent some legal exception.

Additionally, the House voted unanimously in favor of HB 2351 requiring insurance companies to develop and maintain electronic prior authorization forms for the insured to submit for medical treatment which will be authorized prior to treatment. The purpose of this bill is to establish universal forms and establish deadlines when a prior authorization is to be submitted electronically.  The bill is now pending before the Senate.

Lastly, on a personal note, I was appointed to serve on the Judiciary Committee, Labor/Industry Committee, and Banking/Insurance Committee on which I serve as the minority vice chair.  I look forward to updating my constituents on a weekly basis and to provide the most transparent information possible.  Please feel free to contact me directly at Nathan.Brown@wvhouse.gov or by phone at (304) 340-3126 or (304) 235-5674.  My door is always open.

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