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Job impact bill advances in Senate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposal to allow the governor and key legislators to request studies to determine the potential positive or negative impact of certain bills on state jobs (SB187) advanced in the Senate Wednesday, with revisions on who may request the studies.

As proposed, the legislation would require the state Development Office, when requested, to research the number of jobs a particular bill would be projected to create or eliminate.

If enacted, the state would need to hire employees or contractors to conduct the studies, Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, who also serves as director of the Development Office, told the Senate Economic Development Committee.

"We would have to employ folks to do this, and would probably arrange to take advantage of some software programs that do economic modeling," he said.

Burdette said there are only two researchers employed by the Development Office, and neither has expertise in conducting job impact studies.

While the legislation is primarily intended to attempt to verify job creation claims in proposed economic development bills, environmental groups have raised concerns that the jobs impact statements could be used against anti-pollution measures by showing potential loss of jobs.

As drafted, the governor, Senate president, or speaker of the House of Delegates could request a jobs impact study for a particular bill.

Committee members Wednesday approved an amendment offered by Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, to expand that to allow either the governor, or three-member panels in the House or Senate to make the requests.

As adopted, impact studies also could be demanded by two of three members of the panels in the House or Senate. In the Senate, that would consist of the president, minority leader, and chairman of the Economic Development Committee; in the House, that would include the speaker, minority leader, and Economic Development and Small Business chairman.

Wells said that would give individual legislators more opportunity to pursue jobs impact studies for projects in their districts, while still limiting the total number of requests.

"I would like to have an avenue where at least more than one person is involved in the process," he said.

Several senators questioned whether the expanded panels were necessary, saying they believe the president or speaker would be receptive to requests from members of either party.

However, Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, noted that bipartisan cooperation isn't always the reality, particularly in the House.

"If you think they are as collegial in the House, you did not watch the magistrate bill debate," Walters noted, referring to a partisan fight earlier in the session to give pay raises to 48 magistrates and staffs from smaller counties (HB2434).

The jobs impact bill goes to Senate Finance.

Also Wednesday, the committee advanced a Tomblin bill (SB182) to reduce the total amount of tax credits available for motion picture or television productions filmed in the state from $10 million a year to $5 million.

It was noted Wednesday that total credits claimed under the Film Industry Investment Act have never exceeded $3.5 million in any year.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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