- Associated Press - Friday, February 17, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Throwing litter out your car window could mean two weeks picking up roadside trash under legislation advancing in West Virginia.

The bill approved by the Judiciary Committee and poised for a House vote next week would raise the possible fine for littering on public property or anyone else’s private property from $1,000 to $2,500.

In the first full week of this year’s two-month legislative session, the House and Senate also began passing bills on topics ranging from whistleblowers to child care centers. On taxes, a special Senate committee proposed legislation to replace the state income tax with a consumption tax. It would basically raise the state sales tax from 6 percent to 8 percent and apply it to many services as well as goods sold in the state.

For littering, the criminal misdemeanor would carry possible higher sentences of up 100 hours of community service collecting trash, up from 16 hours currently. The law, both as currently written and under the proposed revisions, also targets litter tossed by boaters and fliers.

“If any litter is placed, deposited, dumped, discharged, thrown or caused to be placed, deposited, dumped or thrown from a motor vehicle, boat, airplane or other conveyance, it is prima facie evidence that the owner or the operator of the motor vehicle, boat, airplane or other conveyance intended to violate the provisions of this section,” the legislation says.

The minimum fine would remain $100 for tossing up to 100 pounds of refuse.

For dumping larger amounts, most penalties also would increase.

However, the highest possible fine would be capped at $10,000 - down from $25,000 - but it would be mandatory for dumping more than 500 pounds.

On Friday, the House voted to establish a misdemeanor for leaving the scene of an accident that doesn’t seriously injure or kill someone. Leaving more serious crashes is a felony.

The House on Wednesday passed a bill to raise the personal fine from $500 to $5,000 for government employers who threaten or retaliate against whistleblowers. It would also authorize firing them instead of a possible six-month suspension under current law.

The Senate on Friday passed a bill authorizing prosecutors to carry concealed guns nationally the way police can. The Senate also voted to clarify that child care centers can be subject to electronic audio monitoring, intended to help prevent adults saying inappropriate things to children.

On taxes, the Senate Select Committee on Tax Reform on Friday heard from two economists about the proposed tax overhaul that Chairman Robert Karnes predicted would bring more prosperity to the state.

Ted Boettner of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy said the shift would mostly benefit the state’s wealthier residents, replacing a graduated income tax with a flat tax. He acknowledged that tax credits on earned income could help offset the impact on poorer West Virginians.

John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, said there’s no good reason that services aren’t taxed, which the legislation proposes. The consumption tax would create an incentive to save money, he said.

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