This week from Charleston
This past Wednesday was “cross-over” day. If a bill did not make it out of either house, it died. A lot of good bills did not make it for various reasons. One bill that did not make it out of committee was the Gas Deregulation and Free Market Competition Act of 2014 which I co-sponsored with Delegates Barrett and Lawrence and which Senators Snyder and Blair co-sponsored on the Senate side. Although it failed, I am pleased that it was recommended for a study in an interim committee over the next year. I will continue to advocate that we seriously examine gas prices in West Virginia. Right now, based on a 1939 law, the State requires that wholesalers mark up gas prices by 4% and then that retailers mark up gas by an additional 7%. In the House Judiciary committee, I asked the lobbyist for gas retailers whether the State or the retailer would be better at determining gas price mark-ups. She said she didn’t know.
I thought the answer would be obvious! A business is in a better position to set a price for a good or service. The State generally has no business mandating prices except in extraordinary circumstances, like a state of emergency. I strongly suspect that the gas retail lobbyist knows that the law is permitting gas stations to inflate gas prices at the expense of West Virginia consumers. Some of the gas stations are now digging in. In fact, the day before the bill was to be considered, these retailers were lobbying in full force to stop the bill. Interestingly, two of the grocery stores chains called me to let me know that they supported the bill and wanted gas prices deregulated. They want to offer cheaper gas, but are prevented from offering it because of this law. It really is time to the let the free market determine the price of gas in West Virginia, rather than a state mandate from 1939.
I am disappointed that the Government Fraud Prevention Act, HB 4001 failed to pass the House of Delegates this week. This act fought government fraud and would have dedicated funds recovered to Volunteer Fire Departments, Secondary Roads, and Title 19 waivers for Senior Citizens. This law has been used successfully in over 30 states to recover money that has been stolen and scammed from the state, county and municipal government. What is difficult to understand is the outright dishonesty that was used to defeat the bill. The forces that fought to defeat the bill claim that it would be bad for business in West Virginia. The reality is that the only businesses who would be impacted are those that defraud the government. It could have had an important impact on giant pharmaceutical companies who are ripping off Medicaid.
In the Judiciary Committee, we continue to work on what we generally refer to as the “Water Bill.” This bill does three primary things: first, it identifies water resources and conservation issues; second, it regulates above-ground storage tanks and third, it regulates ‘zones of critical concern” for public water systems. We have rightly invested far more time on this bill than any other bill in two years. I know that the current bill will be significantly amended before passage to eliminate loopholes. I have received a lot of e-mail from back in Jefferson County and it is uniformly in support of tighter regulation. I have had the opportunity to question a few experts about the unique issues related to Karst geology like we have in Jefferson County. I will make sure that any bill has my input on our unique needs.