Governor Jim Justice was asked repeatedly during his campaign in support of the road bond whether the jobs created would go to West Virginians. Each time he answered that he would do everything possible to ensure that West Virginians were given priority in hiring for the dozens of road and bridge construction projects.
The Governor followed up on that pledge by putting two key bills on his call for the special session, which lasted Monday and Tuesday of this week. The first, HB 205, makes important modifications to the West Virginia Jobs Act.
That law requires a contractor to hire at least 75 percent of its employees from the West Virginia workforce area (the state plus counties within 50 miles of the border) for public improvement projects paid for exclusively with taxpayer dollars.
Previously, the penalty for failure to comply–$100 a day—was not significant enough to deter contractors from cheating. The new law beefs up the penalty to $250 per worker per day.
The modifications also closed a loophole that allowed a worker living in a hotel or camper to claim local residency and eliminated a caveat that allowed contractors to sidestep the law with job descriptions that included bogus out-of-state certifications or requirements.
Under the new law, contractors who cannot meet the 75 percent threshold will report to Workforce West Virginia, the agency that operates the state’s workforce development services, and if it cannot find qualified West Virginia job applicants the contractor will receive a waiver.
The Governor also had introduced, and the Legislature passed, a bill allowing the state Tax Department to share information with the Commissioner of Highways. That will make it easier for the DOH to ensure that road construction contractors are complying with all state tax laws, including employer withholdings.
Notably, both bills were supported by labor and business.
“We are very pleased to see something pass that strengthens the West Virginia Jobs Act and helps local workers, and therefore local contractors, get jobs created with tax funds,” said Steve White, director of Affiliated Construction Trades.
Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia, said, “The bill will put more emphasis on contractors to hire local workers.” “The CAWV will also be notifying all bidders on future WVDOH projects of the new requirements prior to the bid opening so bidders know of the Jobs Act requirements,” Clowser said.
Governor Justice was in a celebratory mood Wednesday during his post-session press conference, and he should have been. He’s on a winning streak with the passage of the road bond and quick approval of his agenda during the special session.
Justice has built a strong bond with Senate President Mitch Carmichael and his relationships with House Republican leaders have improved. These are significant reminders of what can be accomplished when people from different points of view, but with common goals, work together.