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Legislative session kicks off, bills sponsored by local reps out of committee

By Bobby Bordelon

With the recent opening of the 2021 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature, several newly-elected local lawmakers are going to Charleston to decide policy. With a Republican supermajority in both the House of Delegates and Senate, many are wondering what kind of new laws could be passed.

Do you want to know what the priorities of those in charge are?” wrote state Senator Stephen Baldwin in the February 16 edition of The Back Pew. “Watch the first bills they pass. … Do these priorities reflect your priorities for West Virginia?”

Bills sponsored by Greenbrier County representatives include:

House Bill 2536 takes aim at the pay of striking teachers – “when a concerted work stoppage or strike by the employees assigned to a school causes the county superintendent to close the school temporarily, the county board shall withhold the pay of the employees for each day that the school is closed for that cause. The county board shall apply the withheld pay to the employees who subsequently fulfill their assigned duties for the instructional term and the employment term as per §18-5-45 and their employment contract.” First reading passed on February 17.

Sponsored by Delegate Todd Longanacre, the bill follows the 2018 and 2019 public school teacher strikes seeking to prevent invasive public insurance requirements and objections to public funding being diverted to charter schools, private schools, and educational savings accounts, each of which are being considered in bills this term. In addition, Senate Bill 11, mentioned below, would add language to the state code making any “collective bargaining, mediation, or arbitration, and any work stoppage or strike by public employees” illegal in West Virginia.

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 in the Senate, which also passed first reading on February 16.

Delegate Barry Bruce has sponsored two bills, including:

House Bill 2003, seeking to qualify the “authority and obligations” of the governor during a state of preparedness and emergency. In addition, the length of the state of emergency would be expanded from 30 to 60 days, and could be expanded by the legislature. First reading passed February 17.

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.

On the senate side, Stephen Baldwin has introduced sponsored 76 bills, including three that are out of committee:

Senate Bill 272 seeks to address the “gig” economy of workers, “distinguishing independent contractors from employees; applying classification provisions to workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, wage payment and collection, and Human Rights Act matters; establishing classification criteria; setting forth limitations to applicability of the act; and providing for severability.”

Senate Bill 277 is the COVID-19 Jobs Protection Act, which would “eliminate the liability of the citizens of West Virginia and all persons including individuals, health care providers, health care facilities, institutions of higher education, businesses, manufacturers, and all persons whomsoever, and to preclude all suits and claims against any persons for loss, damages, personal injuries, or death arising from COVID-19.” This is meant to “provide assurances to businesses that reopening will not expose them to liability for a person’s exposure to COVID-19.” First reading passed on February 17.

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. First reading passed on February 17.

Senator Jack Woodrum sponsored Senate Bill 69 creating a special “choose life” license plate to support adoption, the first reading of which is expected February 18. In addition, the Woodrum sponsored Senate Bill 66 would create a special revenue fund for the West Virginia University Rifle Team, with money coming from “granted by charitable foundations, allocated by the Legislature, allocated from federal agencies, all income from the investment of money held in the fund, and all other money designated for deposit to the fund from any source, public or private.”

Bills by local reps are not the only ones being considered – as of Wednesday, February 17, the Legislature, either in the House or Senate, has passed readings or is preparing to vote on the first readings of the following bills:

House Bill 2007 provides for occupational licenses, allowing a person that is “or intends to be a West Virginia resident” and “holds a valid occupational license” and more requirements be issued a similar license through the relevant West Virginia board. Second reading passed February 17.

House Bill 2013 establishes the Hope Scholarship Program, which would provide funds to “public elementary or secondary” schools in order to enter a “participating school,” meaning “any private school that provides education to elementary and/or secondary students” that is participating in the program. In order to fund this, “an appropriation to the Department of Education for the greater of an amount not less than two percent of net public school enrollment adjusted for state aid purposes or the total number of eligible Hope Scholarship applications received by the Treasurer, if available, multiplied by the prior year’s statewide average net state aid allotted per pupil.” Second reading passed February 17.

Senate Bill 15 would require a “the salary increase” for teachers with masters degrees in their subject area to be “contingent upon a classroom teacher’s assignment.” Second reading passed February 17.

House Bill 2004 lists “permitting healthcare practitioners licensed in other states to practice in West Virginia using telehealth services and providing rulemaking authority.” First reading passed February 13.

House Bill 2014 looks to restrict the governor’s control over federal funds, specifying “the Governor is not authorized to expend any amount of any unanticipated federal funds received for an existing program, for a significant alteration of an existing program, or for the creation of a new program.” First reading passed February 13.

House Bill 2009 takes aim at funding organizations that operate around politics, stating “an employer … may not withhold or divert any portion of an employee’s wages or salaries for use as contributions to any candidate or political committee, or for any other political activities which tend to influence the voting at any election, except upon the express, written request of the employee on an annual basis.” This would include many unions, which it also would affect with a new rule – “an unfair labor practice for any labor organization to use agency shop fees paid by an individual who is not a member of the organization.” First reading passed February 17.

House Bill 2366 would require agencies that have approved a rule that affects fees or special revenues to provide a legislative committee a fiscal note stating the relevant funds and the past five years of the fund’s revenues and expenses. First reading passed February 17.

House Bill 2325 would remove requirements for continuing education for barbers and cosmetologists and prevents board regulations around cosmetic products “generally available through retail sale.” First reading passed February 17.

Senate Bill 11 would enshrine into West Virginia code that “public employees” have “no right, statutory or otherwise, to engage in collective bargaining, mediation, or arbitration, and any work stoppage or strike by public employees is hereby declared to be unlawful. Furthermore, any work stoppage or strike by employees of a county board of education poses a serious disruption to the thorough and efficient system of free schools, guaranteed to the children of West Virginia.” First reading scheduled for February 18.

House Bill 2008 touches on HVAC technicians, plumbers, crane operators, electricians, and more. The bill also adds language to the state code prohibiting “a political subdivision of this state” from requiring “any other license or other evidence of competence to engage in the business of erecting, constructing, installing, altering, servicing, repairing, or maintaining elevators or related conveyance covered by this article.” First reading is scheduled for February 18.

Senate Bill 244 would  prevent “public water and sewer utilities from prohibiting a customer from constructing, installing, or maintaining a connection or other infrastructure necessary for the customer to connect to the public utility to receive service.” First reading scheduled for February 18.

Senate Bill 12 is similar to House Bill 15 sponsored by Bruce in creating new rules for county health departments. First reading scheduled for February 18.

House Bill 2253 sets the penalty for lottery ticket forgery and related crimes to a determinate period between one and five years. First reading scheduled for February 18.

Senate Bill 280 would allow state and local governmental entities to accept electronic payments, with “the costs associated with the acceptance of credit [cards] … may be invoiced in a commercially reasonable manner.” First reading scheduled for February 18.

Senate Bill 293 would prevent the West Virginia Economic Development Authority from entering “into contracts or agreements with financial institutions for banking goods or services without the approval of the State Treasurer.” First reading scheduled for February 18.

The next reading for each of the bills in this list is scheduled for February 18.

The full text of the bills, and most current status of each, can be found on the West Virginia Legislature website.

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