- Associated Press - Friday, April 7, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia lawmakers voted to increase beds available at state-supported drug treatment facilities in response to the state’s opioid addiction epidemic.

The Senate’s 34-0 approval Friday followed a previous House vote to add beds and establish an addiction prevention and recovery fund.

It came as the Republican-controlled Legislature tried to wrap up this year’s work, but remained divided with Democratic Gov. Jim Justice over a state budget and revised taxes. The two-month the legislative session is scheduled to end Sunday.

The House on Friday followed the Senate and voted 94-6 to pass legislation on mining that would change the environmental terms used to measure stream health, substituting the term “aquatic” for “biologic.”

At a hearing Monday, two dozen West Virginia residents and environmentalists opposed the change, saying it would lower the standard by measuring fish instead of insect life. Three coal industry representatives said the change will remove a barrier to their industry’s ability to compete.

“The bill does not change the narrative water quality standard but does make minor changes in the interpretive language in the code,” said Delegate Mark Zatezalo, a Hancock County Republican. He urged passage.

The House voted down 89-10 an amendment Thursday night that would have kept the current language and standard.

“By the time it’s fish kill, it’s too late,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin, a Charleston Democrat. He backed the amendment.

For addiction treatment, West Virginia currently has more than 1,100 beds but struggles to meet demand. Unlike an earlier version, the latest bill doesn’t specify establishing 600 more treatment beds.

Funding would include settlements of lawsuits that accused wholesale drug distributors of flooding the state with prescription pain pills. The state attorney general’s office has settled with 12 distributors for $47 million. Other funding sources could include grants, bequests, transfers and money appropriated by the Legislature.

Both houses voted to legalize medical marijuana by prescription for patients with seizures, cancer, chronic pain and other specified conditions. Gov. Jim Justice is expected to sign it into law.

Both also voted to criminalize “revenge porn,” posting someone’s intimate or sexually explicit images without their consent. Justice is also expected to sign that.

Both houses voted to end $14 million in annual support for greyhound racing at the state’s two tracks. Justice says he doesn’t want to hurt the industry.

On Wednesday, the Senate advanced a budget that would cut state spending, including a 15 percent drop in support for West Virginia University.

The House approved a spending plan with fewer overall cuts, taking nearly 6 percent from higher education. The House also passed a tax bill that would apply the state’s 6 percent sales tax to cellphone services, barbering and contractors and cut the overall tax rate in the middle of next year to 5.5 percent.

The Senate last week voted to raise the state sales tax from 6 cents on the dollar to 7 cents and apply it more broadly to service businesses, while cutting the state income tax.

Justice has called either set of cuts too drastic, saying they would hurt students and West Virginians getting needed social services while automatically cutting matching federal funds. He has proposed fractional sales and corporate tax increases and an extra income tax on the wealthiest West Virginians.

Justice acknowledged that lawmakers may have to return for a special session to resolve the budget impasse.

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