HD Media

CHARLESTON - More than a dozen vetoed bills from the 2019 regular session could be back for do-overs by the West Virginia Legislature when the special session resumes next week.

Gov. Jim Justice - who was not at the Capitol on Tuesday - has not yet amended the special session call or indicated which of the regular-session bills he vetoed for technical errors will be included on that agenda.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, confirmed Tuesday that, barring an unexpected last-minute consensus on public education reform legislation, the resumption of the special session Monday, May 20, will be limited to correcting errors and re-passing vetoed bills.

"We want to be done in a day or two," Carmichael said.

Justice vetoed 30 bills from the regular session, about half of which he indicated he had to veto because of technical errors. In veto messages for many of those bills, Justice called on the Legislature to revisit the bills to make the necessary corrections.

The most publicized of those vetoed bills would have made changes to the 2017 medical marijuana legislation intended to make the budding industry in the state more viable (House Bill 2079).

Those changes included expanding the number of dispensaries that could be licensed and removing provisions that would prevent the same ownership groups from being growers, processors and dispensary operators.

Justice objected to a portion of the bill that would set a lower excise tax rate - 5% instead of 10% - for businesses that operate all three facets of the medial marijuana industry, as opposed to growers, processors and dispensaries that operate independently of one another.

In his veto message, Justice said the state Constitution gives the Legislature authority to set different tax rates for different classifications of businesses, but said those classifications must be reasonable and based on "pertinent and real differences."

"Because I support the medical cannabis program for those West Virginians that need it ... I encourage the Legislature to address the constitutional issue," Justice said in the veto message.

Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, lead sponsor of the bill, could not be reached for comment Tuesday regarding any discussions he has had with the administration regarding putting the bill on the special session agenda.

The governor's original special-session call, issued March 7, limits the agenda to two items: improving the state's public education system and making necessary appropriations to cover the costs of the session.

Justice will need to amend the call before Monday to include reconsideration of the vetoed bills.

Other vetoed bills that could be on the special session agenda include:

n Allowing the state Board of Physical Therapy to conduct criminal background checks on applicants for license, and to disqualify applicants found to have been convicted of certain crimes (Senate Bill 633).

Like many of the bills vetoed for technical errors, Justice vetoed the bill because the bill's title did not accurately summarize what changes the bill would make to current law.

In his veto message, Justice urged legislators to correct the error, noting, "The passage of this bill is very important to the operation of the West Virginia Physical Therapy Board as it implements the multistate compact that was approved by the Legislature in 2018."

n Creating a voluntary certification process for drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers (House Bill 2530).

Justice said the bill fails to define the "certifying agency" that would be under contract with the Department of Health and Human Resources, leaving it unclear whether it would be a government agency, a for-profit business or a nonprofit organization.

Noting that the bill had unanimous support and "a well-intentioned purpose," Justice called on legislators to resubmit a corrected version of the bill.

n Creating a student loan repayment program for mental health providers who practice in underserved areas of the state (House Bill 2623).

Another bill that had to be vetoed because of title errors, Justice commented, "The aim of this bill is laudable: To get mental health providers into underserved areas throughout the state."

n Encouraging investment in low-income communities designated as Opportunity Zones through enhanced tax credits (House Bill 2828).

Justice said that while the bill "certainly has laudable purposes," he said it contained numerous technical flaws.

n Creating a pilot program for the Development Office to identify sites with potential for industrial development if utilities were extended to the sites (House Bill 3024).

Justice said that while the purpose of the bill "is certainly important and encouraged," the bill's title was flawed and "only provides an overly general and vague description of the pilot program."