Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates churned through a long list of Senate bills on Friday, in preparation for Saturday – the last day of the session. Topics included charter schools, the TikTok ban and city outdoor refreshment areas where alcohol can be served.
SB 47, the Charter Schools Stimulus Fund, drew significant opposition from members of both parties but passed anyway and will go to the governor. The fund is intended to support charter school applicants and charter schools that may not have the resources for start-up costs.
The fund would consist of money appropriated by the Legislature, grants, gifts and donations from any public or private source. It provides an initial grant of up to $300,000 before or during the school’s first two years of existence, followed by a possible second grant of up to $100,000. Grants must be paid back if the school fails to begin operating within 30 months of its most recent grant.
Delegate Elliot Pritt, D-Fayette, said the fund will serve as a revolving slush fund, with mixed private and public money, for failing schools to dip into.
House Education chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said Elliot was incorrect – it allows for the maximum two grants and only for start-up costs when other options are exhausted. The four current charters were supposed to receive 90% of the basic funding formula – about $9,000 to $10,000 per student – but got only $4,200 and had to make do.
Delegate Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson, said one of the two brick-and-mortar charter schools needs to buy a bus but received only $60,000 – about enough to cover a driver. The school lost 200 of its 500 students for lack of transportation. “This bill helps schools we want.”
Delegate Andy Shamblin R-Kanawha, incorrectly stated charter schools can charge tuition and objected to this aid when public schools are suffering. “We’re going to do something for them [charters] that were not doing for schools. I’m not going to vote to further defund our public schools.”
Delegate Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, responded that the charters – four currently with two more approved – are public. “They’re West Virginia kids.” The opposition is implying the traditional public school kids are more important. “I refuse to believe that; that’s absurd.”
The vote was 62-36. Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, was one of the 36.
SB 534 contains a number of alcohol-related elements, among them a provision to allow cities to designate outdoor refreshment areas for the sale, service and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Through city ordinance, state-licensed alcohol permit holders would be allowed to establish these out-door areas for alcohol consumption. This portion parallels a House bill that originated out of Morgantown.
Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, objected to the portion of the bill allowing distilleries of various sizes, breweries and wineries to offer free samples at fairs and festivals, which reflects the government’s ever expanding encouragement of alcohol consumption, he said. “We have to draw a line somewhere.”
Delegate Bryan Ward, R-Pendleton, went a step farther, saying, “I would just suggest maybe for next year we can try to legalize prostitution and the state could just be the pimps and we could make some money.”
The vote was 59-32 and it returns to the Senate for amendment concurrence.
SB 426 is referred to as the TikTok ban but specific references to that platform were removed by the House. The bill says that the chief information security officer (CISO) will develop standards regarding banned high-risk technology platforms or products. All levels of government — local governments, K-12 schools, higher education, and state entities — must enforce those standards.
Out of concern for separation of powers, the amended it to simply recommends that agencies in the legislative and judicial branches adopt the standards and practices put forth by the CISO.
The vote was 90-6, with all the votes against from Democrats, and it returns to the Senate for amendment concurrence.
SB 739 came to the House as a bill to set a 60-day moratorium on carbon offset agreements connected to timber sales. A House amendment toned it down to merely require that any parties who enter into a carbon offset agreement apply to the tax commission for a business registration certificate within 60 days of entering into the agreement, or within 60 days of the bill taking effect, whichever is later. It applies to existing agreements.
Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, opposed it saying it interferes with free market policies that allow West Virginians to get paid to grow trees. It helps timber sellers and farmers to diversify their income streams. “How far are you willing to insert government into voluntary private contracts? … I submit that we need to butt out.”
Energy chair Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said the bill doesn’t interfere with private contracts or sequestration agreements. Objectionable provisions were stricken from the bill. But the industry is reluctant to inform the Legislature of the extent of these agreements and the registration process will allow legislators to get that information to empower decision making.
It passed 86-11 and returns to the Senate for amendment concurrence.
SB 220 is the Industrial Hemp Development Act and covers the processing, distribution and sale of kratom and hemp-derived cannabinoids including delta-8 and delta-10. The bill places the regulation of the products under the Department of Agriculture and limits the sale to those age 21 and up. Sales are subject to a 11% excise tax.
The Alcohol Beverage Control Commission is authorized to assist Agriculture in enforcement. Unapproved products are considered contraband subject to seizure and destruction. There are criminal penalties to unlawful possession, distribution and sales, and for sales to underage customers.
The House amended to bill to exempt products that contain no THC, derived mostly from the plant stems, such as clothing and flip-flops. The vote was 92-4 and it returns to the Senate for concurrence.
SB 422 came from the governor and would require each school to publish its up-to-date, county-adopted curriculum on the school’s publicly accessible website, or on the county’s if the school doesn’t have one. New or revised curriculum would have to be posted within 30 days of adoption.
Delegate Elliot Pritt, D-Fayette, said the bill duplicates what already exists. Last year there were only five requests and they were all fulfilled. “Transparency already exists.” But an amendment to the bill allows private companies to post the information and there is no fiscal note to project the possible costs.
Delegate Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson, said that the contracting provision is merely permissive, so projecting the costs is not possible.
And Delegate Bill Ridenour, R-Jefferson, said many of the parents his district work 45 to 90 minutes from the schools and aren’t able to meet teachers at the hours when they are available. “This is something that should be easily accessible.”
The vote was 75-21. It returns to the Senate for amendment concurrence.
SB 187 creates a new felony for any public or private school teacher, principal, counselor, coach, other employee or volunteer to engage in sexual intercourse, sexual intrusion, or sexual contact with any student regardless of the student’s age. Student consent, or occurrence of the act off of school property or outside of a school function do not qualify as defenses.
Delegates approved an amendment to include college campuses to cover ages 18-20. The vote was 90-7 and it returns to the Senate for concurrence.
SB 121 is the Student Journalist Press Freedom Act, to guarantee First Amendment protections for high school and college journalists, with specified exceptions for such things as obscene, vulgar, pornographic or sensual or illicit sexual content. The vote was 95-1and it returns to the Senate for amendment concurrence.
SB 444 will formally terminate the Future Fund. It was created in 2014 to receive a percentage of annual oil and gas severance-tax collections, but for various reasons it never received any deposits.
The vote was 87-9, with all the votes against from Democrats, and it heads to the governor.
The House concurred with Senate amendments to several House bills and sent them to the governor:
HB 2004, the Second Amendment Financial Privacy Act, is a reaction to the three major credit card companies — Visa, MasterCard and American Express — categorizing gun shop sales. (All three companies announced earlier this week that they are pausing implementation of the codes.)
HB 2814 creates the Hydrogen Power Task Force to study hydrogen energy and its role in the state’s economy.
HB 3189 is the PFAS Protection Act, directing the Department of Environmental Protection to continue its study of PFAS chemical in the state’s water supplies and, to the extent data is available, consider ways to address the sources and mitigate the impacts on public water systems. One Senate amendment specified that future state water quality criteria cannot be more stringent than EPA standards.
HB 3214 creates a Road Optimization and Assessment Data Road Pilot Program in Monongalia and Preston counties to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to assess road conditions and use predictive analysis for preventive maintenance. The Senate removed a requirement that all paved roads in the be driven and assessed in preparation for the project.