CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would explore more off-roading in West Virginia is up for a passage vote Wednesday in the state Senate, except without the off-roading part.
“It actually took out the bulk of the bill. The intention of the bill was to allow off-road vehicles in our state parks, state forests and federal lands,” said Beach, a Democrat.
“We were objecting to the fact that they were trying to open up our back lands in our state parks for off-road vehicles.”
That was one of many actions the Senate took during a long floor session just ahead of crossover day, a deadline for bills originating in one chamber must pass to the other.
All that’s really left on the off-roading bill, once it receives consideration for passage, is technical language relating to mapping by the Department of Highways.
“It doesn’t do anything, and it’s not objectionable,” Beach said of its amended form. “I kind of like those bills.”
Beach and Hardesty said the off-roading provisions were hastily passed through committee and could lead to mayhem in West Virginia’s forests.
“Are you all comfortable allowing full-sized vehicle running wild?” asked Hardesty, a Democrat. “I don’t think that’s what the people of West Virginia want.”
Their amendment passed 18-15.
The bill that was passed out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Monday would have established an Off-Road Vehicle Recreation Fund.
It would have directed the director of the Division of Natural Resources to develop a comprehensive plan for public roads suitable for off-road vehicle recreation.
Some senators objected to the amendment.
Senator Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, characterized the original bill as a study of off-roading.
“I support the intent of the legislation. It is an attempt to allow the DNR to study the use of our public lands for other things. It is not forcing them. It is not mandating. But it is encouraging,” Rucker said.
One of her Republican colleagues, Bill Hamilton of Upshur County, questioned that.
“If this is just a study, why are they setting up a fund?” Hamilton asked.
The chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Mark Maynard, refuted accusations that the bill was rushed through committee.
“There was no intent to slide it through or slip it through the back door,” Maynard said.
Now that the bill doesn’t do much, Beach thinks it will have little trouble passing.
“It’ll probably pass in its current form,” he said. “I can’t imagine it not. I’d be shocked if it didn’t.”
In other business, the Senate moved several other bills toward passage votes.
One was a bill that would raise the legal age to use tobacco in West Virginia to 21. That bill also regulates vaping and e-cigarettes.
Senators approved an amendment to remove an indoor smoking exemption for veterans organizations like the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Those who wanted that provision said it would give veterans a place where they could smoke if they choose.
“What the committee did, is it tried to balance a little bit of the loss of freedom with the restoration of some freedom,” said Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan.
“It will say no unelected bureaucrat from the health department in soe county can tell the American Legion or the VFW you can’t let people smoke in your establishment.”
All three of the doctors in the Senate voted in favor of the amendment. Those are Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, Health Committee Chairman Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, and Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone.
“Smoking is not just bad, it’s really, really bad,” Takubo said. “All we’re trying to do is raise the bar to try to encourage those who have not picked up the habit.”
Another bill on its way to passage in the Senate is the Katherine Johnson Fair Pay Act of 2019.
It would make it illegal to require employees to refrain from talking about how much they make.
The bill is named after the West Virginian who was a mathematics pioneer for NASA.
“Although her complex analyses were used in America’s first human space flight and landing on the moon, she and the black female crew with whom she worked were degraded by having to use a segregated bathroom a long distance from their worksite,” the bill states.
“The women in her unit suffered economically as well, by being paid far less than the white male engineers at Langley who performed similar work. This legislation is intended to prevent future wage discrimination like that endured by Ms. Johnson and her black female coworkers, by providing greater transparency about pay rates and banning practices that may perpetuate the effects of past wage discrimination.”