"I hereby declare that the constitutional expiration of the 60 day legislative session has arrived," said West Virginia House Speaker Tim Miley, D- Harrison, as the clock struck midnight.
After weeks of countless hours of discussion and debate the 2014 regular legislative session came to an end Saturday night.
With only a couple of hours to go, the house unanimously passed Senate Bill 373, commonly referred to as the water bill. Prompted by a chemical spill in Charleston that contaminated the tap water in nine West Virginia counties, the bill has been a major focus this session.
"With the water and the chemical spill, it all kind of changed the focus of the legislative session," said West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. "I know they have spent a lot of time on with the bill I proposed, regulating the chemical tanks around the whole state of West Virginia. It's been in five committees, lots of public hearings and so forth so the focus did shift from the way we started the session."
Tomblin said he would sign the bill into action, which would require yearly inspections for above-ground storage tanks and safety planning for water systems. Also included in the bill is long-term medical monitoring for people who were exposed to the crude MCHM. However, the bill does not provide funding for this.
"Right after the chemical spill we needed to put something in place in order to prevent that from ever happening here or anywhere in West Virginia," said Senator John Unger, D- Berkeley, who is the bill's main sponsor.
Other bills awaiting action from the governor include a municipality gun bill, an abortion bill and a teacher pay raise bill. If signed, gun laws enacted by states under the Home Rule Act would be eliminated and those with a concealed-carry permit would be allowed to have firearms in municipal recreational centers. Abortions after the fetus is 20 weeks old would be illegal and result in penalties including a misdemeanor and fines up to $4,000. Teachers would get an across-the-board $1,000 pay raise.
One contentious bill did not make a deadline and was consequently killed. The pseudophedrine bill was designed to reduce the number of methamphetamine in labs in West Virginia. It would have limited the amount of cold medicine a person could buy and allow counties to decide whether or not to make pseudophedrine, a key ingredient in meth-making, prescription only.
However, a conference committee made up of three senators and three delegates missed the 9 p.m. deadline to file the committee report on amendments to the bill.
"It was too late in the day to get all of those meaningful discussions done in a meaningful manner," said Delegate Don Perdue, D- Wayne. "I think that what we are going to see since the industry did win the day today that the growth in methamphetamine labs is going to continue. The number of people affected by it are going to continue and the counties that are affected by it are going to expand."
Last year West Virginia authorities seized 533 meth labs, a record-breaking number for the state.