CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday suspended rules to rush through legislation that would provide financial assistance to small businesses affected by a chemical leak that last week tainted the water supply for a nine-county area.
House Bill 4175, the West Virginia Small Business Emergency Act, passed the House unanimously. The bill was drafted and rushed through committee in response to the crisis, which caused several small businesses to close late last week. Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said he's talked to many business owners and individuals in his district who are concerned about the future of their business, even after water service is restored.
"I have had people say to me quite specifically that without any assistance, they will not be able to reopen their business," Armstead said. "That is a concern."
Although helping small business was the focus of the bill, which allows the governor's office and heads of the Division of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce and Department of Revenue to enact emergency rules to provide financial assistance to small businesses under a state of emergency, Delegate David Walker, D-Clay, was concerned with helping working individuals.
"The individual who works payday to payday has to make a decision now on whether to buy groceries or buy a new water tank, or may not get a paycheck next week to buy groceries," Walker said. "We have safety nets for the poor. The middle class is more comfortable and can maybe afford to miss a payday or so. Then you have the group of people who can't afford that. This is an instance where, in my opinion, we're still ignoring them. It saddens me we won't take them into account with this bill."
Although HB 4175 doesn't offer assistance to individuals, House Finance Committee chairman Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said future legislation would look at that need.
"For right now, I think the feeling was getting the small business community opportunities for assistance and getting emergency rules promulgated would be the best avenue we have on short notice," Boggs said.
Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, said he offered an amendment to the bill that would help individuals. However, based on assurances from House leadership that legislation was coming to focus on that issue, he withdrew the amendment.