Justice convenes a special session and announces the start of the DHHR audit | News, Sports, Jobs

CHARLESTON — Keeping his word three weeks ago, Gov. Jim Justice on Friday announced a special session of the Legislative Assembly beginning Monday and a request for proposals for an audit of the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Speaking at a virtual briefing on Friday afternoon, Justice said the special session would begin at noon on Monday and would include a mix of bills that were vetoed on technical grounds, bills that weren’t failed to get out of the regular legislative session for 60 days, and new bills.

The extraordinary session is expected to last one day and coincide with the April interim legislative meetings which are already due to start from Sunday to Tuesday.

“Tonight, I will launch a call for a special session”, Justice said Friday afternoon. “The session will start next Monday. No need to go into more details on this. »

The proclamation calling the Legislature into special session was released Friday evening and includes 16 bills, including a new version of Senate Bill 729, regarding funding for infrastructure and economic development projects in West Virginia. . The original bill that passed the Legislature would have created two revolving loan funds – one operated by the state Economic Development Authority and the other operated by the Department of Transportation.

The court vetoed SB 729 on March 29, citing numerous technical errors rendering both revolving funds unusable, such as the inadvertent deletion of language granting investment authority to the Economic Development Authority.

Some of the other Special Session Call Bills include:

* A bill reclassifying Bluefield State College as a school exempt by statute from Higher Education Policy Commission oversight. If passed, BSU will join West Virginia University, Marshall University and West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine as exempt schools under the law. Shepherd University and Fairmont State University have administrative exemptions.

* Four bills deal with various pension schemes for civil servants.

* A bill would create an unemployment fraud unit within WorkForce West Virginia. Senate Bill 543 would have created the unit, but the bill died after the Senate amended the bill to include provisions of another Senate bill aimed at reducing the number of weeks unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 12 weeks and to require specific job search criteria. The House never considered the bill on the last day of the March 12 session.

* Another bill makes changes to several state boards and commissions, including changing the qualifications of appointed members and reducing the number of members on some boards.

A bill vetoed by the judiciary in March that will not go to a special session is Bill 4020, which would have split the Department of Health and Human Resources into two departments: the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Human Resources. In his veto message, Justice said HB 4020 failed to take into account the complexity of splitting up the state’s largest department that manages more than $7 billion in state and federal funds.

Instead, Justice said he would call for a top-down review of DHHR to audit the department and make recommendations on how to reform it. Speaking on Friday, the Justice Department said the state issued a request for proposals earlier in the day to secure consulting contracts to provide an organizational assessment of DHHR and create a strategic plan. Submissions must be submitted no later than Friday, May 6 at 1:30 p.m.

“We look forward to connecting with a really, really great partner who can do a top-down assessment of all DHHR needs,” Justice said. “If we have any shortcomings, we will correct them as I promised. We want to keep improving each of our organizations. »

DHHR has been criticized in recent years for its handling of the opioid crisis, the explosion in the number of children in foster care, its handling of abuse and neglect cases, delays in the medical cannabis, problems in state-run hospitals and severe staff shortages. . Jeremiah Samples, deputy secretary of the department, recently left DHHR citing a difference of opinion with the leadership of secretary Bill Crouch’s department.

“We are moving this process as quickly as it can be,” Crouch said during Friday’s briefing. “We hope to put in place a good candidate to do so… We are looking to have recommendations by December 31 this year. It’s a tight deadline and a lot of work.

A 2014 audit report commissioned by former Governor Earl Ray Tomblin also called for splitting DHHR into two departments. Justice has deflected blame for DHHR’s failures.

“Everyone who breathes and lives knows that DHHR hasn’t just become this way under my watch or over the past few years,” Justice said. “There is no possible way. DHHR has had problems for a very long time. What’s great is that we’re taking care of them now and we’re going to get to the bottom of it and see what we can do to really help.

(Adams can be contacted at [email protected])

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