CHARLESTON — A week after postponing bill-signing events for a new cybersecurity center at Marshall University and additional funding for volunteer fire departments in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice signed those bills in ceremonies Tuesday.
Justice began Tuesday morning with a bill-signing ceremony in Point Pleasant to sign Senate Bills 1021, 1022 and 2023 providing $12 million for volunteer fire departments.
“We know first and foremost that you literally do run to the fire,” Justice said. “We can never, ever thank you enough … I don’t know how we make it without our community volunteer fire departments.”
Of that, $3 million would go toward fire departments in counties with excess levies or dedicated fees for emergency services, $3 million would go toward counties and distributed based on population and $6 million would go to all volunteer fire departments in equal shares. The bills also include a reporting requirement by the departments to the State Treasurer’s Office and State Auditor’s Office.
“This is a big day for first responders in the State of West Virginia,” said Rob Cunningham, deputy cabinet secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. “The cooperation. Between the Legislature and the governor to come up with this one-time appropriation to help fund our fire departments … is huge.”
A similar effort was made by the West Virginia Legislature to provide additional funding for volunteer fire departments. House Bill 3153 died on the last night of the 2023 legislative session on March 11 after disagreements arose between the House of Delegates and Senate. Much of the debate revolves around how to find a consistent source of funding versus one-time money.
“We still do not have a permanent funding source, but I promise you we’ll find a way to do that without raising taxes,” Justice said. “Have we achieved everything we want to achieve? No, and we’ve still got more to do … we’ve got to figure it out.”
Tuesday afternoon, Justice signed House Bill 117, providing $45 million in surplus tax revenue to Marshall University for its Institute for Cyber Security. The funding will be used to construct a new facility in downtown Huntington for the cybersecurity program.
“Today, we’re putting another stake in the sand that will absolutely perpetuate this university beyond good sense,” Justice said. “We’ve got this, because we’re Marshall … Absolutely you all are rising from the ashes every single day.”
Marshall offers a bachelor’s in cyber forensics and security, a program recognized by the National Center for Academic Excellence. ICS also offers a master’s in cybersecurity and cyber forensics and security. The program boasts seven professors, including three PhDs, with several scholarly research papers published. A 2022 team from Marshall scored in the top 1%, 28th out of 3,926 teams, at the National Cyber League’s Fall competition last year.
“Everywhere we go, West Virginia is known for excellence in cybersecurity,” said Marshall University President Brad Smith. “Marshall University is proud to have a seat at that table … When the world calls, West Virginia answers.”
Smith thanked regional and statewide partners, including the Legislature, of which leadership was on hand for the Marshall University bill signing.
“(Marshall University) is a conduit for one of the components of creating a new West Virginia, and it’s called cybersecurity,” said Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. “All of us work together as a team to be able to bring opportunity to the State of West Virginia so you and all of you guys here will have job opportunities in the state and gainful employment.”
“You will receive training at Marshall University which will help you protect the futures and retirement security of 300 million Americans, and that will happen here in Huntington … and I’m excited about that,” said House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. “The chance we have to create and grow our ability as a state to protect the world will happen here in Huntington.”
In a Aug. 14 press release a day prior to the scheduled bill signings, Justice said he was forced to postpone after a visit earlier that day to J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown for a previously scheduled treatment for back issues. Justice was told by doctors he would be unable to drive himself for 24 hours after receiving an injection for the back pain. Other than an appearance at an event near his home in Lewisburg Aug. 15, Justice resumed his scheduled activities on Aug. 16.
The Legislature passed 35 out of 44 bills during a three-day special session during August interim meetings two weeks ago. As of Tuesday morning, Justice had signed 30 out of 35 bills. Tuesday’s Marshall University bill signing event was ceremonially, having already signed the bill into law. The signing of the fire department bills Tuesday morning made that law official.
Funding for volunteer fire departments and Marshall’s Institute for Cyber Security was made possible with more than $451 million available in tax revenue surplus dollars after the state ended fiscal year 2023 in June with more than $1.8 billion in surplus tax revenue.