Today’s a key procedural deadline, which means there will be no new bills as lawmakers march closer and closer to the end of the 60-day session. And after lawmakers raised concerns about a renewable energy company looking to open a plant in Weirton, we went there to hear directly from residents what they thought.
But first, lawmakers are moving a bill that would put more restrictions on drug treatment facilities and recovery homes in some West Virginia counties.
Further restrictions on drug treatment facilities
West Virginia lawmakers have already passed several measures designed to further restrict drug treatment facilities in communities across West Virginia. Many of them are spurred — and supported by — Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce, who has been a frequent attendee of the meetings, advocating for state lawmakers to scale back the number of treatment beds and recovery homes in Wood County.
Joyce, who has said Parkersburg has spent $25,000 on bus tickets to send people out of Wood County, believes out-of-state residents are using the town’s substance use disorder treatment resources and driving up homelessness. This claim contradicts the opinions of experts, who believe restricting treatment facilities and recovery homes are unlikely to reduce the number of people unhoused.
“I won’t apologize for sticking up for my home town and the people I represent,” Joyce said.
Now that measures like SB 239 and 243 have cleared both chambers (though the latter is waiting for the House to agree with the Senate’s changes), Joyce is supporting a new measure that would subject new treatment centers to a new regulatory process. Currently, the state’s Health Care Authority controls where new health facilities are built through the Certificate of Need program. Right now, there are exemptions for addiction treatment centers; but if passed, this bill would subject new treatment centers to the Authority’s control in counties with over 150 treatment facilities.
That includes Wood County, which currently has more than 200 residential beds. Ironically, a Wood County lawmaker played a role in the high number of treatment beds: former Del. John Kelly, R-Wood, was a cosponsor of a codified 2017 bill that pushed Parkersburg to bolster its treatment facility network.
Health committee Democrats say the latest push to subject treatment centers to the Certificate of Need process is another part of the trend to increase political authority in the name of scaling back public health services.
“I’m so uncomfortable putting limits on how we’re able to help,” House Health and Human Resource Minority Chair Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said during the meeting.
“This is not about us not wanting to help,” Del. Scot Heckert, R-Wood, responded. “This is us being overrun.” —Allen Siegler
A battery of criticism
Over the past week and a half, lawmakers spent some particularly long floor sessions arguing about a bill that many many have expected to fly by. House Bill 2882 is an appropriations bill, laying out a pot of money meant to go to the Department of Economic Development.
A chunk of the money — $105 million — is planned to go to Form Energy. The battery company has announced its plan to build its newest plant in Weirton.
But that battery plant funding became contentious when a number of lawmakers objected. The reason, many said, was that not only was Form Energy part of the renewable energy industry, but its CEO had previously made comments about how the world needs to stop burning fossil fuels entirely. For some lawmakers, that’s in direct opposition to West Virginia’s values and coal-based heritage.
“This Form Energy, this new startup, has openly declared its hostile opposition to what makes us who we are in West Virginia,” said Del. Pat McGeehan.
But in McGeehan’s district, which includes part of Weirton, people felt differently. The company has promised to bring 750 jobs to town, and many say those jobs are greatly needed.
Go deeper: As lawmakers sparred over battery plant funding, Weirton residents say ‘we need more jobs’
Tick, tick, tick
Time is running out: today was the last day to introduce bills in the Senate, while the House’s deadline was last week. Bills can still originate in committees, however. Now, lawmakers have another nine days before Crossover Day. That’s the day where all House bills have to be out of the House, and all Senate bills out of the Senate. At that point, the number of bills still in play will drop dramatically.