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Vets' lottery bill in doubt

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON -- With the end of the 2000 legislative session rapidly approaching, passage of a bill that would establish one or more state veterans' nursing homes is unlikely.

While the bill has passed out of the House Finance Committee, it has not been reported out of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Del. Roy Givens, D-Brooke, who chairs the committee, was unavailable to comment Thursday on whether the bill is on the committee agenda. Today is the deadline for acting on bills in the house of origin.

The House has passed a bill introduced by Del. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, which would direct the state Lottery Commission to create a special instant lottery game, with the proceeds dedicated to the construction and operation of a veterans' nursing home. An amendment added to the bill in the House Judiciary Committee expands use of the money generated to helping veterans find beds in existing nursing homes.

Del. Larry Linch, D-Harrison said Thursday some legislators want to wait for money to accumulate in the special lottery fund before authorizing the construction and operation of a veteran's nursing home. Linch added that he would rather see the bill come out this session.

"This should come along with the lottery bill," Linch said. "My concern is they might accumulate the money, not pass the bill and end up paying for beds in existing nursing homes."

Linch said he was concerned non-veterans might be crowded out of nursing homes because of generous state payments for beds needed by veterans.

In the Senate, members worked frantically to report the higher education bill to the floor from the Finance Committee Thursday evening. The bill was advanced to third reading with the right to amend, then re-referred to the Finance Committee, which was scheduled to meet and work on amendments to the bill this morning.

Sections of the bill that call for the administrative separation of component community colleges from parent four-year colleges are strongly opposed by FSC administrators and Senators Roman Prezioso, D-Marion and Sen. Michael Oliverio, D-Monongalia, who contend separation would disrupt the integration of FSC's two- and four-year degree programs, as well as creating duplicate administrations, faculties and services.

The 180-page bill, in its original form, also contained provisions for combining administrative boards, enacting different admissions standards at different colleges and increasing funding for higher education by a percentage tied to the state's annual revenue growth.

Sarah Hensley, director of communications for FSC, said committee members were in the process of making major changes to the bill. Information about amendments to the bill was unavailable Thursday evening.

In other action on Thursday:

n Gov. Cecil Underwood's proposal to sell $4 billion in bonds to make three government pension plans solvent passed a major test.

The Senate Finance Committee, the first major committee to vote on the proposal, endorsed the plan with only one dissenting voice.

State Administration Secretary Joe Markus proposed the plan last year and has encouraged lawmakers to approve it. The proposal calls for the state to sell the pension obligation bonds to cover a $4 billion liability in retirement programs covering teachers, judges and the State Police.

The bonds would not hurt the state's credit rating and would be paid off in 35 years, Markus said.

n Teachers unions tried to step up their fight against the governor's Public Employees Insurance Agency bill, but to no avail.

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday endorsed the bill without change. Teachers unions spent the day Thursday talking about amending it in the Senate, but when the bill came up Thursday evening, the only amendment was to correct technical mistakes.

The bill is scheduled for a vote today.

Both the West Virginia Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association say teachers and public employees are being asked to pay an unfair share of PEIA's rising costs and the state should pay more.

n A proposal to allow a citizens board to review complaints about the State Police will not become reality this year, says a House chairwoman who controls the bill. A compromise does not seem possible, said House Government Organization Chairwoman Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley.

"We're just not there," she said.

Senate Government Organization Chairman Ed Bowman, D-Hancock, said his committee would consider the review board bill if the House passes it.

Yet, there are not enough delegates in Douglas' committee who support the review board to advance the measure.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

\

n The Senate Finance Committee endorsed legislation that would help West Virginia rid itself of about 12 million used and discarded tires.

The Finance Committee has changed Gov. Cecil Underwood's proposed method of how to pay to dispose of the tires.

In his State of the State address, Underwood proposed a $5 environmental fee on motor vehicle titles and said the state Department of Transportation should oversee the discarding of the tires.

The Senate Judiciary Committee agreed, but the Finance Committee instead proposed a $3 fee on all tires sold.

Tire dealers now have the right to impose a $2 fee on tires sold, and the money is used to dispose of tires. But tire dealers are not required to impose the fee.

The bill also calls for the Department of Corrections to help move the discarded tires.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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