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House Small Business Emergency Act heard in Senate Committee

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The Senate Economic Development Committee met Jan. 22 to discuss House Bill 4175. 

The bill was drafted after the Jan. 9 chemical leak in the Elk River that affected roughly 300,000 West Virginians. The idea was to help businesses affected when West Virginia is declared to be under a State of Emergency.

HB 4175, the West Virginia Small Business Emergency Act, is meant to provide emergency assistance to small businesses during a state of emergency, would authorize an emergency rule be enacted by the director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, in consultation with the secretaries of the Department of Commerce and the Department of Revenue, to establish the criteria under which assistance to small businesses would be provided. It also would provide factors to be considered or required in the establishing criteria and would allow for the state to recover some of the assistance it would provide.

The Senate committee discussed the bill, with many senators believing it needed some work before being sent to its next stop, the Senate Finance Committee.

The Economic Development Committee will work on the bill before discussing it in its next meeting, which is yet to be announced.

One concern from legislators was the appropriation of funds given to businesses already affected by the latest and still current State of Emergency, the water crisis.

"Although (the bill was drafted with) well intentions of (our) good friends in the House, it doesn't appear this legislation could have (an) impact on what they're trying to do," said Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone. 

Stollings said he would advise going forward with the bill but making sure it would cover every disaster and ensure something like the water crisis would never happen again in the future.

Sen. Bob Williams, D-Taylor, the chairman of the committee, said the bill was drafted in order to assist small businesses and some language was purposely vague in order to be substantial in any disaster event.

West Virginia, just in the last several years, has seen a variety of disasters including the June 2012 derecho and Hurricane Sandy.

The committee also suggested putting a cap on the money used should the bill be passed, limiting $2 million out of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's appropriation fund to be used in events of disaster.

However, if necessary, more money could be approved through agencies including from FEMA or third party supplemental loans, officials said.