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Regional license tests considered

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For many West Virginians, taking an examination to obtain or renew a professional license from any of a half-dozen state boards means a long drive and frequently an overnight stay in Charleston.

A legislative interim committee Wednesday began studying ways to regionalize testing for all state professional boards in hopes of cutting down on long trips for residents who live some distance from Charleston.

"If you're in the Northern or Eastern Panhandle, that's clearly a whole day, and often, spending the night," Senate Government Organization Chairman Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said of boards that offer exams only in Charleston.

Snyder said the bulk of complaints he's received are aimed at the Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists, which has nearly 1,000 licensees taking exams each year with the only test location being the Carver Career Center in Charleston.

An estimated half-dozen state boards and commissions offer testing only in Charleston, although at least one, the Real Estate Commission, is looking at regionalizing test sites for broker and sales licenses.

"We've heard the same complaints, especially from the Eastern Panhandle," executive director Richard Strader told legislators. "It's a far piece for them to have to come to Charleston. They do have to spend the night. It's expensive for them."

Strader said the commission has a proposed rule change pending to allow examination sites outside of Charleston, and is looking at contracting with a testing service to offer the exams.

He said the draft rule would allow the commission to raise the licensing fee, currently $25 a year, up to $150 to offset the costs.

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, suggested that would financially punish licensees who live close to Charleston in order to benefit residents of the panhandles.

"I'm not willing to hang the rest of the state out," he said.

Division of Labor Commissioner David Mullins told the committee the division provides licensing exams for more than 17,000 contractors, nearly 2,000 crane operators, and about 7,800 plumbers at locations in Martinsburg, Morgantown and Wheeling, in addition to Charleston.

He said the division contracts with a testing service, and said the cost under the contract is $42 per exam.

Also Wednesday, representatives with the state Jobs Investment Trust touted the success of the West Virginia Capital Access Program. The program parlayed $13.2 million of federal stimulus funds to leverage $57 million in private capital to invest in 11 businesses around the state.

Those businesses, located around the state and in enterprises as diverse as science education program design, an auto dealership, and a bowling alley, created more than 550 full-time jobs, JIT officials said.

"It has success that has outpaced 48 of the other 50 states," said Matt Wender, WVCAP marketing liaison. "It will be up to us to maintain the program in West Virginia."

He noted the stimulus funding was one-time money, and it is unlikely there will be additional federal funding for small-business investment for the foreseeable future.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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