By Lyra Bordelon
Over the past week, more bills from local lawmakers passed through West Virginia’s Senate or House of Delegates, including bills from Senators Stephen Baldwin and Jack Woodrum, Delegates Todd Longanacre and Barry Bruce, and introduced by Governor Jim Justice through Baldwin and the Senate President. Education and COVID-19 continue to be the biggest issues of the session.
On his Facebook page, named Senator Stephen Baldwin, Baldwin also argued against passed legislation expanding charter schools in the state and removing local control from education (Senate Bill 212) and a bill allowing casinos to put ATMs near gambling locations. He argued virtual schooling has not been successful, which Greenbrier County Board of Education heard the results of in a recent meeting, and that the second bill enables gambling addicts to spend “their life savings” away.
Baldwin also recently held a town hall where those he represents could dial in remotely and ask questions about the bills. He addressed the likelihood of certain bills passing and noted a number of bills are being pushed by corporate lobbies such as ALEC.
In his weekly column, The Back Pew, Baldwin states People, “People aren’t paying attention. That’s the conclusion I’ve reluctantly drawn because I’m receiving far fewer calls, emails, and letters than usual. Visitors aren’t currently allowed at the capitol. Very few people are tuning into the live streams or our virtual meetings. The media isn’t present to document the session like usual. Even social media engagement is down this year.”
In a commentary last week, Longanacre also addressed the education bills coming through both Houses, including bills declaring the already illegal act of teachers striking to be illegal, creating a method for public funds to go to private, sometimes religious schools, and the expansion of charter schools.
“Just know that I have not met even one delegate on either side of the aisle who desires to harm public education or stifle business,” wrote Longanacre. “All of us sincerely desire to make them both better but may have differing plans on how to get there. Of course, there are a few who I have heard say ‘don’t change anything, just give us more funding’ with regard to public education and ‘corporations are taking advantage of the little man’ one too many times. In fact, it oftentimes begins to sound like fingernails scratching across a chalkboard at times each time I hear them talk. But I nevertheless listen and later politely agree to disagree on some things.”
Baldwin independently sponsored several bills passed by the Senate and sent over to the House of Delegates. Both Baldwin and Woodrum voted yea on these bills:
– Senate Bill 102, allowing disabled veterans and purple heart recipients to park free at paid parking of state or its political subdivisions,
– Senate Bill 16 provides continued eligibility for developmental disability services to dependents of military members,
– Senate Bill 359, informing landowners when fencing that may contain livestock is damaged due to accident,
– Senate Bill 392, creating penalty for impersonating law-enforcement officer or official,
– Senate Bill 1, providing for parity of payment for telehealth services between service in-person and service provided through telehealth platform.
While Senate Bill 368, creating the Reclamation of Abandoned and Dilapidated Properties Program under the WV Department of Environmental Protection, passed several readings, it was sent back to the Senate’s Rules committee.
Woodrum has sponsored five bills that have left committee. This includes Senate Bill 270, allowing taxation of hotel rooms booked through a “marketplace facilitator,” which passed the Senate with Baldwin and Woodrum voting yea. A first reading is expected in the House.
Four of these bills have passed first reading and are continuing:
– Senate Bill 332, requiring all delegates to take an oath not to alter Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
– Senate Bill 381, creating nonresident three-day fishing license
– Senate Bill 501, continuing and indexing of license and stamp fees, and
– Senate Bill 263, permitting online raffles to benefit charitable and public service organizations.
Longanacre has sponsored 25 total bills, with four out of committee.
– House Bill 2791 would allow county boards of education to allow home or private schooled students to enroll or take classes in the county’s vocational schools. A second reading was passed on March 2.
– House Bill 2093 would require the Veterans Affairs Medical Foster Home Program to provide an annual report to the governor and provide exceptions for homes reviewed by the program. A second reading was passed on March 2.
– House Bill 2582, also sponsored by Longanacre, creates more rules around issuing teaching licenses, including requirements for a bachelor’s degree, submission to a criminal check, “successfully completing pedagogical training,” and passing competency tests for the subject matter. First reading passed February 17. Senate Bill 14 is a similar bill that has passed both the Senate (nay Baldwin, yea Woodrum) and House (yea Bruce and Longanacre).
On March 3, Longanacre also sponsored House Bill 2869, removing any mandatory mask mandate in West Virginia. This bill is still in committee.
– House Bill 2536, restricting the pay of striking teachers, has not progressed past first reading on February 17.
Bruce has introduced 19 total bills, only one of which has been considered by the House of Delegates itself.
– House Bill 2015 would require rules made by local health departments also be approved by the “appointing entity,” such as a county commission, with exceptions for governor declared states of emergency and more. First reading passed February 13, and is still slated for a second reading. A similar bill dealing with control over local health departments, Senate Bill 12, has been passed by both the House (nay Baldwin, yea Woodrum), then passed by the House (yea Bruce and Longanacre).
The other 18 Bruce-sponsored bills are still being considered by the House committees. These bills include a limit to the number of visitor’s bureaus in a county, establishing quick response teams to communicate with overdose victims after the initial emergency response, requiring all public contracts to be publicly advertised. The last is of note after the Greenbrier County Commission recently approved a contract to rent Bruce’s downtown Lewisburg office for the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department during courthouse renovations.
Both Bruce and Longanacre sponsored a transphobic bill which requires athletes to compete “based on biological ex” (sic), looking to ban transgender women and girls from competing in female sports. If a student’s gender is disputed, either cis or trans, they would have to get a “signed physician’s statement” indicating their gender based on “internal and external reproductive anatomy, the student’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone, an analysis of the student’s genetic makeup.” One way of handling this would be having a physician perform a full-body physical on any athlete accused of not “being” their gender before they could compete.
According to the ACLU, the “facts” about trans athletes are often misconstrued. One Associated Press report found similar bill sponsors in 20 states “cannot cite a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems.” One physician, Dr. Joshua D. Safer, explained “a person’s genetic make-up and internal and external reproductive anatomy are not useful indicators of athletic performance.” For a trans woman athlete who meets NCAA standards, “there is no inherent reason why her physiological characteristics related to athletic performance should be treated differently from the physiological characteristics of a non-transgender woman. … A person’s sex is made up of multiple biological characteristics and they may not all align as typically male or female in a given person.”
Baldwin also sponsored ten bills that have left committee, several of which were introduced on behalf of Governor Jim Justice. These bills include:
– Senate Bill 277 is the COVID-19 Jobs Protection Act, which would “eliminate the liability of the citizens of West Virginia [from] all suits and claims against any persons for loss, damages, personal injuries, or death arising from COVID-19.” The bill passed through the Senate (nay Baldwin, yea Woodrum) and has passed the first reading in the House.
– Senate Bill 272, addressing the “gig” economy of workers, passed the Senate’s third reading (nay Baldwin, yea Woodrum), and has passed first reading in the House of Delegates.
– Senate Bill 295 deals with broadband investment loans made through the Broadband Loan Insurance Program, including a limit on the amount of loan insurance that can be awarded in a single year to a single broadband provider to $20 million. The bill passed through the Senate (yea Baldwin and Woodrum) and is in House Finance.
– Senate Bill 275 relates to the WV Appellate Reorganization Act of 2021, creating an intermediate court in West Virginia. Passed by the Senate, nay Baldwin and yea Woodrum, and is in House Judiciary.