The legislation specifies that only the "most vulnerable of businesses" should qualify for financial assistance. The bill doesn't define what size companies will be eligible.
"I have had people say to me, without assistance, they will not be able to open their business," said House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. "We cannot allow this crisis to result in businesses closing down for good."
The legislation directs the governor and state homeland security director to establish rules for distributing funds to small businesses during a "state of emergency." There's no mention how the program would be funded. Legislators suggested the governor might tap the state's Rainy Day Fund.
"It would just give the governor ... the ability to look at the nature of the emergency, what the state might be able to do in a fiscally responsible manner," said House Finance Chairman Brett Boggs, D-Braxton. "It sets up a framework."
Under the bill, small businesses also would be eligible for financial help after future disasters -- not just the chemical spill -- during a "state of emergency." The bill now goes to the Senate. It will take effect immediately after the Senate passes it and the governor signs it into law.
Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, accused Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the massive chemical spill that left 300,000 people without tap water, of "corporate malfeasance."
"People you expect to be responsible and to be good corporate neighbors just screwed up your entire water system, and now we're going to pay for it," Guthrie said. "We're going to be acting on this particular tragedy, this spill, for years."
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.