One Democrat in the House of Delegates is punching back after Gov. Jim Justice didn’t include a fix for the state’s medical marijuana banking problems on his call for a special session.
Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, is leading an effort to exercise a rarely-used part of the state constitution that allows lawmakers to call themselves back into a special session. He said Sunday night he has about half the signatures he needs to complete an official petition to do that.
“If in fact there is a solution that I feel would address the federal problem that we have — we have a federal banking problem,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. “I’m not sure it can be resolved on the state level.”
Lawmakers were back in Charleston because of the governor’s call for them to address a handful of bills, most of which just involved making technical changes to the state code. One bill, though, would create a new Department of Arts, Culture and History — a re-organized version of the Department of the Arts and Education lawmakers dissolved just weeks ago.
For each of the eight bills, lawmakers use a procedural tactic to prevent them from going through a committee and instead came up for a first reading Sunday night. That leaves time for a second reading on Monday and a third reading on Tuesday night before lawmakers are scheduled to leave Charleston.
Pushkin is the sponsor of another bill, House Bill 109, which attempts to fix the banking issue for the state’s medical marijuana program. Pushkin said it draws on one recommendation from the Treasurer to basically create a state-run banking system to process marijuana transactions.
Democrats tried to use the same procedural move to fast-track it, but Republicans overwhelmingly shot that down. Instead, Armstead sent it off to be considered in three different committees and later said he hadn’t “looked at it specifically in detail.”
Even the most contentious bills usually only go through two committees, and so far it doesn’t seem that the three committees it was referenced to plans to meet.
“I think that made it pretty clear that the speaker and the leadership here doesn’t have any intention of fixing the banking issue with the medical cannabis,” Pushkin said.
The state constitution allows the governor to call lawmakers into a special session after their regular session ends. It also prevents them from entering any business except for the reason the governor called them back.
Armstead said Pushkin and other Democrats were allowed to introduce HB109 because of a long-standing tradition where members can introduce whatever bill they want. But Armstead refused to rule on whether delegates could consider the bill.
The confines of Justice’s call for the special session make no mention of marijuana.
Instead, some lawmakers are signing onto Pushkin’s petition to call themselves back into a separate special session. Pushkin thinks there’s a good chance he’ll be able to get enough signatures for the petition considering a previous medical marijuana banking bill that passed out of the House with 78 votes in support of it.
Del. Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, was the first to raise concern about Pushkin’s bill falling outside of Justice’s call. Even though he urged delegates to shoot down the procedural move to fast track the bill, Folk said he signed Pushkin’s petition.
“The best way for it to happen is if the governor issues a special call for it, and then we’ll have the votes to pass something,” Folk said.
Armstead, who said he would not sign the petition, believes the governor will “consider” placing a call for lawmakers to come into another special session to pass a banking fix if his staff can find one.
Jared Hunt, a spokesman for the House, said he would need three-fifths of the elected members from each chamber.