BLUEFIELD, W.Va (WVVA) - WVVA is helping to answer your questions about small business and personal finance. Every Wednesday, John O'Neal, the Executive Director of the Development Authority of Mercer County, is helping answer questions.
WVVA: This Wednesday, we continue our new series for 'Small Business Wednesday' on the bills in the West Virginia legislature that will most impact small business and workers in our state. John, what are some of the most important bills that are under consideration this year?
O'Neal: Wednesday Feb. 24 is day 14 of the 60 day session. As a reminder for our viewers, a bill must go through the House of Delegates and the Senate, and be signed by the Governor in order to become law. No bills have completed the entire process yet, but as of Wednesday, the House has passed 24 bills, and the Senate has passed 31.
Normally each chamber will consider the highest priority bills within its own body before taking up bills from the other chamber. Today we will focus on a couple of bills that have passed the West Virginia State Senate. SB 277, the COVID-19 Jobs Protection Act, passed with bipartisan support in the Senate this week.
This bill is very important to every business owner in the state. The intent of the bill is to give immunity from COVID-19 related lawsuits to employers. The bill is intended to encourage employers to fully resume operations as rapidly as possible, without fear of lawsuits that could put them out of business.
The protections for business owners in this bill are very broad. One section of the bill reads as follows: "… there is no claim against any person, essential business, business, entity, health care facility, health care provider, first responder, or volunteer for loss, damage, physical injury, or death arising from COVID-19, COVID-19 care, or impacted care."
This language is among the strongest in the nation for COVID-19 immunity. It sends a strong signal that west virginia wants to get back open for business. One Senator stated in support of the bill that COVID-19 is everywhere.
There is no way to determine how or where someone might have contracted it, so we shouldn't force business owners to live in fear that their livelihoods will be taken from them in a COVID-19 lawsuit claim.
WVVA: What else has the senate passed that will impact business in our state?
O'Neal: The Senate passed SB 275 which would establish an intermediate court to review civil cases between the circuit court and supreme court levels. It would also handle workers compensation cases and final orders from family court. the legislation has been passed several times in the Senate, only to fail in the house of delegates. Perhaps this may be the year that West Virginia joins 40 other states in establishing an intermediate appeals court.
WVVA: Why is this an important bill for small business?
O'Neal: Supporters of the bill believe that it is needed to insure fairness and consistency throughout the state. We have local circuit courts that handle cases initially. they can produce very different results in different regions.
There is no guarantee that these verdicts will be taken up on appeal by the WV Supreme Court, so the perception is that justice is different in different regions.
The intermediate Court of Appeals would help insure that all cases can be heard on appeal, and that there is likely to more a more stable, fair, and predictable court system.
There are many more bills making their way through the process that will impact small business and workers in our state this session. We will review the issues and the status of these bills, and report back to the viewers each week while the legislature is in session.
WVVA: please join us the next few weeks as 'Small Business Wednesday' examines the new legislation that will impact small business and workers in our state.