A similar but more burdensome House bill has been stalled in committee since Feb. 1

A bill to add more protections for people in recovery residences and promote accountability for those residences unanimously passed the House Committee on Health and Human Resources on Thursday.

Senate Bill 475 would add further oversight for recovery residences in the state by requiring them to be registered with — not licensed by — the state Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification (OHFLAC) before being able to operate in the state. Residences already in existence would have six months from the law’s effective date to file with the office, per the bill code.

Those that fail to file with OHFLAC would be subject to a $20,000 fine for each day they operate without being registered with the state. Individuals, likely those who run or manage the facilities, could be charged with a misdemeanor as well as a monetary fine ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

The bill also adds recovery residences to portions of code that prohibit patient brokering and human trafficking. Patient brokering, according to the state health department, is an illegal practice “used by some rehabilitation facilities” where a facility pays a third party to find patients or clients for a program. Oversight for such actions is nonexistent in recovery residences that are not certified or licensed by the state of West Virginia.

Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, in what he called a “rare occurrence,” lauded Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, for sponsoring the bill. Pushkin said he was especially pleased to see that the proposed law would close an ongoing “loophole” in state code, which allowed people both in and out of state custody, including in jail systems, to refer themselves to recovery residences not certified with state regulatory agencies.

“We want people to go to places where they have a chance to get better, and I think this does that,” Pushkin said. “This has just about all the elements we need to regulate these houses while keeping the good ones open.”

SB 475 previously passed the Senate unanimously, with one member absent and not voting. The bill will now advance to House Judiciary for consideration. Also awaiting consideration in that committee is House Bill 5239, which is similar but more burdensome than the Senate version of the bill. House Health, earlier this month, also advanced that bill.

Under the House bill, which is similar in its wording to a 2021 law that made it illegal to operate needs-based syringe service programs, recovery residences in the state would need to apply for licensure from OHFLAC. Due to OHFLAC regulations applying to medical services — which recovery residences are not — experts testified earlier this month that HB 5239 would create more problems than it fixed.

While the bills address similar issues, Pushkin said earlier this month that “folks he trusts” who work in recovery residences were wary of the House bill while accepting the Senate version.

“This is an issue that we’ve taken up a lot of bills on in the last few years. Some of those bills I opposed — I thought they would shut down good houses,” Pushkin said on Thursday, speaking on SB 472. “I’ve said all along, if you want to get at the root of the problem, look at the money, follow the money. I believe this bill does that.”


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