With 9 Days To Go, Here's Where Bills Are In The W.Va. Legislature

Feb 27, 2020

In honor of Crossover Day, the deadline for legislators to pass their bills out of their respective chambers and send them to the next body for consideration, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s legislative team is taking a step back to review where some of the bill’s we’ve been monitoring stand now. 

As of Wednesday, Feb. 26, the Legislature had sent 85 bills to the governor’s desk. The House passed 243 bills total on to the Senate. The Senate passed 249 bills on to the House. 

Here is a (non-comprehensive) list of where some noteworthy bills stand. A reminder, the session is slated to end March 7. 

Efforts To Pass Nondiscrimination Act Fail (Again)

Months before the legislative session began, advocates announced plans to reintroduce the Fairness Act, a bill to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public spaces against members of West Virginia’s LGBTQ+ community. 

Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, requested on Feb. 18, 2020, the House of Delegates discharge House Bill 2741 dealing with discrimination from the House Industry and Labor Committee to the full House for a vote. The request failed.
Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

As we reported on The Legislature Today on Friday, Feb. 21, a nondiscrimination act has been introduced every year since at least the 1990s. 

This year, there were five related bills in the House of Delegates and two bills in the Senate, all of which were referred to committees and never considered. 

Electronic Voting Bill For Voters With Disabilities First To Pass

Senate Bill 94 to allow electronic voting for people with certain hand and visual impairments was the first piece of legislation to pass both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature. The governor signed it into law on Feb. 5, 2020.

Since then, some security concerns have become public regarding a mobile application the Secretary of State’s office was considering for the 2020 election cycle.

Senate Passes Bill Protecting Preexisting Conditions, Contingent on ACA Repeal

A bill to protect West Virginians with preexisting conditions from losing insurance coverage has been referred to the House Health and Human Resources Committee after passing the state Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 25

The Republican-backed Senate Bill 284 was one of two dueling proposals, both contingent on a repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act. 

West Virginia’s Republican attorney general joined a Texas lawsuit in 2018 calling the ACA unconstitutional. Since then, that Texas judge and a federal circuit court in New Orleans both have decided the act, in some capacity, violates the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court is not scheduled to weigh in anytime soon, after it denied a request to make a decision this year

Neither Senate Bill 284 nor the Democrat-backed Senate Bill 561 address how West Virginia will fund its plans to protect people with preexisting conditions. 

Marissa Sanders, a member of the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Parents Network, spoke at an event for her organization on Jan. 9, 2020.
Credit Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography

House Addresses Foster Care Crisis With Three Bills

The House of Delegates has passed a handful of bills addressing the state’s highly publicized foster care crisis

House Bill 4092, which establishes a bills of rights for foster care children and foster parents, passed the full House and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees. The bill would give foster parents and kinship caregivers a $300 increase to the monthly amount they receive.

House Bill 4094, which elaborates on the responsibilities of the newly established foster care ombudsman, was referred to the Senate Children and Families Committee in January. 

House Bill 4415, addressing runaways in the foster care system, was referred to the same Senate committee, followed by the Senate Finance Committee. 

House Bill On Data-Gathering Center Provokes Civil Liberties Discussion

Robert Cornelius, former chair of the Wood County Republican Committee, said during a public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 20, he believes the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center was investigating him for criticizing the governor. That public hearing was for House Bill 4176 to add the state fusion center into state code.
Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Private citizens and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the constitutionality of an existing data-gathering center while considering House Bill 4176 earlier in February.

This proposal adds the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center to state code. The group was created by an executive order from the governor’s office in 2008. 

Through codification, delegates said on Wednesday, Feb. 26, they hope the bill will add more legislative oversight over the center’s day-to-day operations, which for the last 12 years have lacked this kind of supervision.

An Update On Bills To Address Reconstruction After Flooding Disasters 

Since the deadly floods of 2016, the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding has been working on legislation to address challenges facing the West Virginia National Guard’s RISE program that is rebuilding houses and other structures that were lost or seriously damaged three and a half years ago. 

The rebuilding process has been slow-going. House Bill 4130 seeks to speed up that process by reforming some of the state purchasing requirements that have hindered the Guard from hiring contractors. The bill passed the state Senate on Jan. 30, and the governor signed it on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

However, House Bill 4401 dealing with a dysfunctional State Resiliency Office to prevent future flooding disasters died in committee. It’s Senate counterpart also failed to make it out of committee. 

Criminal Justice Bills Seek To Reduce Overcrowded Jails

Several bills in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees this year seek to address the state’s overcrowded regional jails and prisons, through reforms to  parole, bail and records expungement requirements.

In the House of Delegates that includes House Bill 2419, which would allow the state to release otherwise incarcerated individuals awaiting trial who can’t pay their posted bail amounts. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 30.

Dels. Jordan Hill, R-Nicholas, and Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, discuss a bill on insulin copay caps during a press conference on Jan. 20, 2020.
Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

House Passes Bill To Cap Insulin Insurance Copays

The House of Delegates has sent a bipartisan bill capping the amount of money insured West Virginians pay for insulin to the Senate Banking and Insurance Commission. The bill was also referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

House Bill 4543 seeks to cap the price of a 30-day supply of insulin, of any type and any quantity, at $25. The protection would only apply to insured West Virginians under the state’s jurisdiction. The federal government regulates insurance coverage for West Virginians covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private employment-based health benefits for companies that self insure. 

W.Va. Legislature Tackles Religion In Public Schools

Earlier in the session, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed House Bill 4069, requiring local school districts to adopt a model policy, similar to the one described in the legislation, to ensure schools aren’t discriminating against or sponsoring the expression of any particular religious viewpoint. 

As of Wednesday, Feb. 26, that bill sits in the Senate Education Committee. It also has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration. 

Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, speaks against House Bill 4780 related to the optional creation of a bible-themed social studies elective in public school districts.
Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

More recently, the House and Senate passed different versions of a bill allowing county boards of education to create a social studies elective on religion. In the Senate, the bill was amended to allow a course on “sacred texts or comparative world religions.” 

In the House of Delegates a similar amendment failed. The bill, as passed, allows for courses involving Hebrew Scriptures, The Bible’s New Testament, a combination of the two or the Bible’s Old Testament. 

Members of the House and Senate likely will have to form a conference committee to resolve the difference. 

Senate Clears Bill To Allow Homeschool Students To Play Public School Sports

The Senate passed a bill that would allow homeschool, private school and parochial school students to take part in extracurricular public school activities. The bill is named after the Heisman Award-winning athlete Tim Tebow, who fought for the right to play public school sports as a homeschool student.

The House of Delegates has also taken up its own version of the bill and passed it as well. 

Both measures remain in play.

Democrats Push For Recreational Cannabis While Full Legislature Works On Long-Delayed Medical Program

Earlier in the session, Democrats in the House of Delegates held a press conference promoting several bills dealing with the decriminalization, taxation, and legalization of medical marijuana. 

All of the bills they discussed have died in committee. Meanwhile, the Legislature has been working on a rules bundle that, among several other things, would advance the medical cannabis program it agreed three years ago to approve. On Wednesday, Feb. 26, Senators also passed Senate Bill 752 that would include dry leaf of “flower” cannabis in the state's medical program. The Senate now waits on the House to take up the bill.

Long lines of cars waited to receive donated cases of water in Paden City, West Virginia, on Feb. 9, 2020. Paden City's problems with water contamination have come up in several discussions on legislative efforts to address the issues with drinking water statewide.
Credit Brittany Patterson / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

An Update On Bills Addressing Water Problems In West Virginia 

A “Clean Drinking Water Act” introduced during the December interim session would’ve increased transparency requirements for facilities using chemicals known as PFAS. It also would’ve required the state Department of Environmental Protection to monitor these facilities and regulate what they discharge into waterways.

House Bill 4542 was referred to the House Health and Human Resources Committee and never acted upon. An identical proposal in the Senate was referred to the Judiciary Committee and never considered. 

Meanwhile, the Senate passed Senate Bill 739 on Tuesday, Feb. 25, allowing the West Virginia Public Service Commission to take more authority when it comes to regulating and reassigning water systems that, due to being in a state of disrepair, lead to unsafe drinking water. The bill moves to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration, which agreed to support an identical version earlier this month. 

Born Alive Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature

A bill that would call on doctors to use “reasonable medical judgement” in the event of an unsuccessful abortion passed both chambers of the Legislature and now awaits Gov. Jim Justice’s signature.

Lawmakers in the House of Delegates debated the bill at length, with Democrats calling the bill a political stunt that does nothing. In the end, though, only five members of the minority voted against the bill. The Senate cleared the bill unanimously.

In a news release from his re-election campaign, Gov. Justice said he had been endorsed by the anti-abortion rights group West Virginians for Life. The governor also said he looks forward to signing House Bill 4007, the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Abortion Act. 

Proposed Constitutional Amendment To Undo Supreme Court Decision On Impeachment Dies On Senate Floor

The West Virginia Senate voted 20-13 along party lines Wednesday, Feb. 5, to reject a resolution that would have proposed a constitutional amendment to further define the separation of powers between the three branches of state government. The measure needed 23 votes — or a two-thirds majority — to advance to the House of Delegates.

The proposed constitutional amendment sought to undo a 2018 decision by an ad hoc bench of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals that nullified the impeachment of justices on the state’s high court.

Deborah Hamilton holds up a t-shirt at the public hearing on House Bill 4615 on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. The bill, known as the West Virginia Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, would penalize those who protest at pipelines and other sites.
Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Anti-Pipeline Protest Bill Clears House, Awaits Action In Senate

House Bill 4615 would create penalties for trespassing, vandalism — or conspiring to do either — at sites that have been listed as critical infrastructure, including oil refineries, natural gas operations, telecommunications infrastructure, railroads, chemical plants, government-regulated dams and water treatment facilities. 

The bill was given a public hearing and saw staunch opposition. The House of Delegates agreed to pass an amended version of the bill onto the Senate shortly afterward. 

The bill now rests in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Passes Bill To Provide Adults On Medicaid With Dental Coverage

Members of the West Virginia Senate cleared a bill Wednesday, Feb. 27 that would provide adults on Medicaid with $1,000 of dental coverage. 

Senate Bill 648 passed the upper chamber on a 32-2 vote.

Having cleared its chamber of origin on Day 50, the bill is waiting to be heard by the House Health and Human Resources Committee.

One ‘Menstrual Equity’ Effort Makes Headway, While Others Stalled

West Virginia’s upper chamber passed Senate Bill 484 on Friday, Feb. 21. The measure would provide free feminine hygiene products to female inmates of the state’s prisons and jails.

The legislation has been referred to the House Health and Human Resources Committee, with a second follow-up reference to the House Finance Committee.

Other efforts as part of a movement known as menstrual equity never made it out of committee, including proposals that would have required county boards of education to provide free feminine hygiene products in schools. 

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, is the lead sponsor behind Senate Bill 837 dealing with tax reform. His legislation passed the Senate on Monday, Feb. 24.
Credit Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Senate Fails To Clear Most Essential Part Of Two-Pronged GOP Tax Overhaul Plan 

The West Virginia Senate failed in one part of a two-part attempt to change state taxes on manufacturers, retail and property.

Senate Joint Resolution 9 would’ve amended the West Virginia Constitution, allowing the Legislature to reduce or fully repeal any “species” of personal property tax.

The specifics of those tax repeals — as well as tax increases needed to backfill most of the revenue that would have been lost — is found in Senate Bill 837, which passed the Legislature on Monday, Feb. 24, a day before the Senate voted against passing the resolution. 

SJR 9 failed 18 to 16, clearly lacking the two-third majority necessary for legislative changes to the state constitution.

SB 837, meanwhile, was sent to the House of Delegates after passing the Senate 17-16. The bill offers sweeping reforms to the state tax code — including a six-year phase out of ad valorem taxes (those based on the assessed value of property) on manufacturing machinery, equipment and inventory; retail inventory and personal property taxes on motor vehicles. 

Senate Rejects Proposal To Eliminate Greyhound Breeding Fund

The Senate also rejected a proposal to eliminate a state fund for greyhound breeding.
The bill had support from Sen. President Mitch Carmichael, who stepped down from his podium on Tuesday, Feb. 25, to speak in favor of the bill before the senate’s vote. 

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, left his podium on Wednesday, Feb. 19, to speak in favor of a bill to eliminate the state's fund for greyhound racing. The bill failed.
Credit Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography

The state directs roughly $17 million in excess lottery funds to the greyhound industry each year. The money ends up in the hands of breeders and handlers at the Mardi Gras Casino in Nitro and Wheeling Island Hotel and Casino.

Senate Bill 285 would’ve eliminated the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund and allowed that money to go to other lottery-funded programs such as education.

The bill would have also put $3 million toward retraining workers who would be laid off within the industry and $1 million to promote adoptions for dogs who would be retired from racing. Residents who adopt the retired greyhounds would have gotten a $500 tax credit.

The bill lost 11-23, with Democrats and several Republicans voting against the legislation. 

Intermediate Courts Bill Passes Senate, Gets Public Hearing In House

Earlier in February, the Senate agreed to pass Senate Bill 275 to create an intermediate court of appeals to consider civil judgments from circuit courts as well as decisions from family courts and workers compensation rulings. Despite a failed attempt to amend the bill, this level of courts would not hear criminal cases.

Creating an intermediate court of appeals would cost roughly $7.6 million to establish in the first year and $4 million annually after that.

The bill is waiting on consideration from the House Judiciary Committee. It was also referred to the House Finance Committee.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.