If you're a driver, a beer lover or an e-shopper, get ready for changes
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Lots of new laws are headed for the state code books, and it could be bad news for online shoppers, seatbelt shirkers and recently fired employees short on cash.
Craft beer lovers and referees, meanwhile, have reason to rejoice.
The state Legislature passed more than 200 bills during this year's regular and special sessions, which ended last week. Most still require the governor's signature to become law.
Lawmakers hope many of those measures, like Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill and prison overcrowding bill, will produce significant long-term outcomes for the state.
Other bills will have a very direct, almost immediate effect on state residents.
For example: starting July 1, police can pull over any driver caught without a seatbelt over his or her shoulder.
House Bill 2018 makes failure to wear a seatbelt a primary offense in West Virginia. Offenders are subject to a $25 fine but cannot be charged for any court costs and will not receive any penalty points on their driving record.
Lt. Shawn Williams of the Charleston Police Department's Community Services Division expects the new law will save lives.
Williams said between 15 and 20 percent of state drivers currently do not wear seat belts, and buckling up could prevent most wreck-related fatalities in the state.
Although it's a good idea to start buckling up now, Williams said it could be some time before anyone is ticketed for failing to wear a seat belt. Officers will observe a short grace period as they attempt to educate drivers about the new law.
"We're not going to be out there on July 1 waiting with bated breath," he said.
Williams said the city police department's annual "Click It or Ticket" campaign, which rolls out next month, would emphasize the new law this year.
If those $25 fines don't get you, another recently passed bill probably will.
House Bill 2754 requires any online retailer with a physical presence in the state to charge sales taxes. That includes businesses with brick and mortar stores in the state, but also businesses who might have an office or distribution center in West Virginia.
State Tax Department spokesman Danny Forinash said some retailers already charged sales tax as a good-faith gesture. But beginning Jan. 1, 2014, every online retailer with a West Virginia facility will start charging a 6 percent tax on purchases.
That will include online purchases from K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Target and Cabella's, but also Amazon.com, thanks to the online superstore's Huntington distribution center.
"The bill is part of a trend," Forinash said. "More and more states are doing this, and more and more businesses are making this good-faith gesture."
Online sales taxes are expected to generate $7 million to $10 million annually.
Meanwhile, tax credits for many alternative-fuel vehicles already have disappeared thanks to legislative action.
For the last two years, the state has offered a $7,500 tax credit to residents who purchase plug-in electric or hybrid cars, or those fueled by natural gas, propane, butane or 15-percent ethanol fuel blends.
Starting April 15, lawmakers narrowed those credits to cars powered by natural gas or liquefied petroleum. The move is expected to save the state $6 million this year.
Some other bills passed by the Legislature this year include:
The bill also limits West Virginia home brewers to 25,000 barrels per year. That translates to about 775,000 gallons.
Rob Absten, an attorney, home brewer and local beer enthusiast, said that allows home-based beer producers to sell their products directly to customers and state retailers. Larger beer producers cannot sell directly to retailers, but must go through a distributor.