By Jean A. Flanagan
The 2017 West Virginia Legislature took steps to help convicted felons of nonviolent crimes get a “second chance” at a productive life.
“House Bill 2657 allows nonviolent felons the opportunity to petition the court to have their felony reduced to a misdemeanor 10 years after completing the terms of that felony conviction,” said Del. Isaac Sponaugle (D-55).
Sponaugle met with the Examiner to outline changes made during the Legislative Session, effecting residents of Hardy County.
“A felony conviction really hurts an individual’s chance at getting a good job,” Sponaugle said. “This should help. They’ve done their time. This gives them a second chance.”
The Legislature also passed the Medical Cannabis Act, which allows for the legal use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
[private] “We are the 29th state in the United States to pass such legislation,” Sponaugle said. “It allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for health reasons. It establishes a panel whose appointed members will make recommendations for rules to implement the law. They will bring those recommendations back to the legislature for approval.”
Senate Bill 386 bans growing marijuana for personal use. It also prohibits smoking marijuana and the sale and purchase of edible cannabis products.
The Bureau of Public Health will oversee the implementation of the law. A Medical Cannabis Advisory Board will be appointed.
Medical marijuana will be permitted for the treatment of cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, MS, Epilespy, Huntington’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, PTSD, Intractable Seizures, Sickle Cell Anemia and terminal illness.
In regard to the budget, Sponaugle said, “Things are still a mess.
“The legislature has not fixed the budget woes of the past two years. We will be facing another government shutdown next year.”
Sponaugle said the budget increases that will impact Hardy countians most directly are the increase in Department of Motor Vehicle fees. Fees were increased to fund road projects.
“I voted ‘no’ on the increase to DMV fees,” he said. “They were passed to pay for the road bonds, before the voters have an opportunity to approve the road bonds. Regardless if the bond passes or fails, the new fees will be collected anyway.”
Voters will decide if the state can sell $2.8 billion worth of bonds to finance road projects, most of which are in the southern part of the state.
“There is $90 million on the Phase I list for the Corridor H/219 connector,” Sponaugle said. “Every section that’s finished to the west brings us one step closer to the Wardensville/Virginia line section.”
According to the Record of Decision handed down by the U.S. District Court in 2000, there are four conditions by which construction may proceed on the Wardensville/Virginia section of Corridor H.
The state of Virginia constructs a four-lane highway connecting the W.Va./Va. line to Interstate-81.
The WV Department of Transportation determines there is an unacceptable level of service on Route 55 and the Virginia state line.
There is a potential loss of allocated federal funding.
Twenty years have elapsed since the effective date of the Record of Decision.
Sponaugle said the wholesale gasoline formula has changed that will probably result in a $0.035 per gallon increase to consumers.
Some of the new DMV fees are as follows:
Vehicle registration renewals will go from $30 to $51.50 per year.
The tax to register a new vehicle will increase from 5 percent to 6 percent of the purchase price.
Title fees will increase from $10 to $15.
Duplicate title fees will increase from $10 to $15.
A regular transfer will increase from $5.50 to $10.50.
A copy of a driving record will cost $7.50.
Duplicate decals, plates or registration will increase from $5 to $10.
The increase in DMV fees will hopefully raise $140 million in revenue, a far cry from the more than $300 million the state will be short this fiscal year, Sponaugle said.
“We have to significantly cut spending or raise taxes and the political courage isn’t there to do either.”