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September’s round of interims covered a few items of interest to counties. The next interim session will be post election in December.
The Judiciary Committees of House and Senate reviewed issues of controlled substances, the impact of legalization of marijuana in Colorado, criminal justice data collection, and criminal sentencing. Sgt. David Hudson with the Dunbar Police Dept. spoke on the topic of controlled substances and their abuse, stating, “Cartel members are in our state. They come here because there’s a market here. They set up a shell business to launder their money.” Blaming the cartel for fueling the heroin addiction problem, Sgt. Hudson stated that current laws need updated and new laws added, such as for money laundering, to enable law enforcement to deal with the problems they are facing.
The Director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) provided information on the impact of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2013. Overall, the impact report findings are negative with regard to law enforcement issues. For example, marijuana related traffic deaths in 2009 represented 10% of all traffic fatalities but by 2015 that number had doubled to 21%.
Rick Staton, Director of Community & Justice Services, discussed the need for additional data because data drives the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2013. Currently, there is no statewide assessment or data collection of drug offenses, charges, or convictions. With regard to sentencing, Director Staton noted that the Governor’s Committee on Crime, Delinquency & Corrections studied the issue in 2003. He asked for legislative authority to receive certain types of data from all sources if they are asked to do the study again. He also said that a priority listing of category of offenses would help the Governor’s Committee provide a timely response.
The Personal Property Tax on Inventory, Machinery and Equipment Subcommittee of the Tax Reform Study Committee met in an organizational meeting to discuss ways to minimize or eliminate this tax. Sena- tor Gaunch, serving as chairman, opened the meeting by stating these taxes are “onerous to business” and the only reason they haven’t been eliminat- ed already is because they are Constitutional. He stated that they need to find a way to eliminate these taxes without hurting our counties. Senator Hall also suggested looking at other states on how they have minimized or eliminated this tax but also noted that in Ohio, real property is higher so overall the taxes are no higher on businesses than in WV. (Note: This topic was discussed extensively in last year’s Tax Reform Committee study and no recommendations were made to change personal property taxation or any other taxation). The committee will invite interested stake- holders to provide information at December’s interim session, including business leaders, county commissioners, and county officials.
The Forest Management Review Commission listened to information about the managed timberland taxation rule that came out at near the end of the legislative session and was vetoed by the Governor. The Division of Forestry presented a mapping project that they are working on to provide a better overall picture of timberland and soil productivity in WV. One of their goals is to eliminate county boundaries within the data. Katherine Gazal, a Professor of Forestry Economics at WVU, gave a detailed presentation of the suggested revisions for valuing managed timberland. Currently it is based on the USDA Forest Service Bulletin but the proposal is to use WV’s historical saw timber and pulpwood prices. The proposal also removes the current “floor” below which managed timberland values may not go. During the session, numbers were presented showing the revenue from managed timberland decreased in 29 counties using the revised rule. According to the Division of Forestry, 2.43 million acres are in managed timberland out of 12 million total acres of timberland. 719 corporate owners own 72% of the acreage of managed timberland. The rule revision is being sought by the WV Forestry Association.