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MARC bill on track for passage in W.Va. legislature

April 10, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The House Finance Committee on Wednesday made significant changes to a bill that would support the operation of MARC commuter train service in the Eastern Panhandle, but the legislation’s lead sponsor said it still is “a great bill.”

“Getting it out of that committee almost assures passage,” state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, said after the committee voted to pass its amended version of Senate Bill 103. “I’m happy.”

The bill later was reported to the House floor and placed on the active calendar for its first reading today.

It now is on track to pass the Legislature by Saturday at midnight, the end of lawmakers’ 60-day regular session.

As originally introduced, Senate Bill 103 proposed the creation of the West Virginia Commuter Rail Access Act. The section of state code contained provisions for the state to give CSX Transportation a tax credit for not billing the Maryland-run commuter rail service for its use of the railroad’s tracks in West Virginia.

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The finance committee’s amendment, however, proposes the creation of a special fund in the state treasury and requires the state to negotiate agreements with Maryland or the Maryland Transit Administration for the continued operation of the service from Washington, D.C., into West Virginia, according to a copy of the amended bill released by Snyder’s office.

The Brunswick line of MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) train takes area riders daily, Monday through Friday, from Martinsburg in Berkeley County to Union Station in Washington, D.C., with stops in Duffields and Harpers Ferry in Jefferson County.

“The agreement may provide for the payment of track access fees attributed to commuter rail operation within the boundaries of the state (of West Virginia),” the amended bill states.

Any track access fee payments as a result of the agreement would be paid from the West Virginia Commuter Rail Access Fund, according to the bill. The special fund would be administered by the director of the state rail authority and funded by legislative appropriations.

Snyder lauded the efforts of MARC riders and other supporters of the service who petitioned the Legislature in lobbying for the bill.

“It was a very organized effort to drive it through,” Snyder said. “I didn’t do this by myself.”

Only a drop in daily ridership could affect changes to the quantity and quality of service that currently is provided, according to the amended bill.

End-of-year figures for 2012 show the average daily MARC ridership on the Brunswick line from Martinsburg was 186 passengers, followed by Duffields (159) and Harpers Ferry (111), according to the Maryland Transit Administration.

The average daily ridership for the entire Brunswick line was 7,784 passengers.

While the city of Martinsburg owns and maintains its train station and the West Virginia State Rail Authority maintains the other two stations in Jefferson County, the state currently does not allocate money toward MARC’s operation.

Snyder has said the state’s current informal arrangement with MARC might be the only interstate commuter service in the nation that is being provided without an actual operating agreement between the two states.

Sunday alcohol sales

In other legislative action Wednesday, a proposal by Del. Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, to allow Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages to begin at 10 a.m. was revived by the House Judiciary Committee.

Current state law only allows alcohol sales on Sunday to begin at 1 p.m.

The proposal was amended into Senate Bill 470 on a 14-10 vote by the committee, and the committee’s amended version of the bill was reported to the House floor on a 14-11 vote, according to an audio webcast of the meeting streamed live on the state Legislature’s website.

Del. Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, who said he voted against the bill in committee, said he would be surprised if the legislation is put up for a floor vote by House Speaker Rick Thompson given the division.

The introduced version of Senate Bill 470 proposed that farm wineries be allowed to sell samples and wine on Sunday mornings at fairs and festivals, according to the Legislature’s website.

The State Senate passed the bill 27-7 on April 1, according to the Legislature’s website.

Skinner’s original bill to change the time of Sunday alcohol sales died in the House of Delegates after being placed on the inactive calendar.

Advocates of the legislation included the owners of the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, W.Va., where patrons cannot order a glass of champagne or other alcoholic beverage with their Sunday brunch until the dining event is more than halfway through.

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