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Governor vetoes bill that would have split Department of Health and Human Resources

Gov. Jim Justice says no to splitting the Department of Health and Human Resources in two.

The governor announced this afternoon that he has vetoed House Bill 4020. That would have divided the administration’s largest agency into the Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources, each with its own commissioner.

“We all want to address and correct the very real issues within DHHR, but before we undertake such a drastic change to an enormous agency that affects the lives of our most vulnerable West Virginians, I believe we need to take a deeper look at every aspect of how this would work,” Justice stated.

Lawmakers of both parties in the Senate and House of Delegates said the split is necessary to get a handle on the agency’s finances as well as its complicated missions of promoting the health of West Virginians, combatting drug addiction issues, supporting the state’s most vulnerable children and more.

Delegates passed the bill 83-11, and senators passed it 32-2.

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch had warned of complications with splitting the agency’s finances, particularly federal funding. Justice echoed some of those concerns in his explanation of the veto.

“I am committed to making the DHHR better, but we cannot afford to play politics when people’s lives hang in the balance. We need to be certain before we act,” Justice stated.

Justice also acknowledged that more work must be done to improve the agency’s outcomes. The governor said his administration would work with national experts and industry leaders for a top-to-bottom review “so that we may clearly identify its issues, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies.

“We will work to develop a plan to address any and all problems, which may very well require a full reorganization of the agency. But we will do so in an effective and efficient way, so we can make sure there is no lapse in any vital support or services for the West Virginians who rely on the DHHR.”

When the governor was asked during a March 14 briefing about the possibility of splitting DHHR, he seemed open to the idea. But he also indicated that day that more thought might be required.

“May be the thing to do,” he said that day. “I stand open. I stand completely open.”

Justice continued that day by saying, “We recognize that we have more and more and more challenges at DHHR. In regard to this idea, it probably needs a little more thorough thought is all I would say. But it is absolutely not a bad idea and I don’t know exactly whether or not splitting it makes it more complicated, or does it make it better?”

Justice today announced additional vetoes, including  House Bill 4001 that focused on broadband.

“Although I fully support the intent of this legislation and have worked tremendously to expand broadband access across the State, this bill contains fatal flaws and provisions which are prohibited by federal law,” Justice wrote in his veto letter.

The governor vetoed two more bills for what he described as technical reasons. Senate Bill 573 was meant to give magistrates latitude to preside in certain instances outside normal court hours. House Bill 2300 would have included Family Court judges in the Judges’ Retirement System.





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