Stateline Story

Legislative Scorecard: West Virginia Set For Special Session

  • August 13, 1999
  • By Joseph Giordono

Making good on a promise to help his state's drought stricken farmers, West Virginia Governor Cecil Underwood has asked state legislators to return to Charleston next Tuesday for a second special session.

The session will deal with five supplemental appropriations, which have been merged into a single bill in the hopes of wrapping up the session as quickly as possible.

The additional funding requests submitted by the Governor include $2 million in state matching funds for federal drought relief; $1 million for the Public Employees Insurance Agency to help underwrite the costs of a new co-payment program; $1.8 million towards the construction of the National Guard Regional Training Institute; $500,000 for the Guaranteed Work Force job-training program; and $250,000 for new water intake lines at a water treatment plant.

Also this week, Underwood signed a drought disaster declaration for the entire state. The declaration will allow him to mobilize the state National Guard as soon as lawmakers approve the additional emergency funding appropriations.

Meanwhile, the relief felt in the New York statehouse last week after finally settling a budget impasse melted into the sobering realization that other issues were left unresolved. At the top of that list is whether or not to extend the Health Care Reform Act and the state's new lobbying laws.

Both of those laws, passed last year, are set to expire at the end of this calendar year.

Other issues that weren't addressed before adjournment include debt reform, reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, hate crime legislation and mental health insurance disparity.

According to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, the unfinished business will most likely be attended to in a special session to be called sometime this fall. Until then, however, Bruno and other legislators plan to relax.

"I am going to play some golf. I am going to get up to the track. I have so many constituents up there who are just waiting to see me," Bruno said.

California lawmakers will have to set aside the golf clubs and racing forms as they prepare for a Monday return from their summer recess. With one month remaining in the 1999 session, a number of contentious issues remain to be resolved.

One of the most controversial issues is legislation that would reauthorize lawsuits against insurance companies for "bad faith" handling of claims. Both houses of the legislature had adopted such a bill before the recess, but under pressure from business interests, Gov. Gray Davis threatened a veto. The bill was never actually sent to the governor.

Other issues include drives to increase unemployment and workers' compensation benefits and reform of HMO laws to allow lawsuits over medical care decisions.

The final month of the legislature is likely to highlight the increasing rift between the Democratic governor and liberal legislators and interest groups.

After being frustrated by 16 straight years of a Republican in the governor's mansion, California liberals thought Davis' ascension would provide them with much anticipated payback. Instead, they have become frustrated at the governor's cautious agenda.

On a number of issues earlier this session, Davis seemed to put Republican leaning business interests ahead of traditional liberal concerns. He opposed banning a pollution-causing gasoline additive at the behest of business leaders and sided with farmers in a legal dispute with environmentalists over water issues.

With the final month of the California legislative session peppered with potentially divisive issues, things could heat up between Davis and his fellow Democrats.