Lawmakers approach crossover day with busy floor sessions

Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates passed a human smuggling bill on Monday, but opponents objected that it places trafficking and smuggling on the same level and denies trafficking victims the right to restitution.

Joey Garcia

Across the Capitol, the Senate moved bills regrading parental surrogacy, school truancy, health insurance and unemployment benefits.

HB 5031 is the smuggling bill. It defines human smuggling as knowingly transporting or harboring illegal aliens within the state. It applies the same penalties to smuggling as already exist for trafficking.

It carves out an exception for “any person hired by another state who transports an illegal alien through West Virginia, so long as the illegal alien will not remain in West Virginia.” This would apply, for example, to bus drivers hired by southern border states who are shipping illegals north to sanctuary cities.

It says that if a human trafficking or smuggling victim is an illegal alien, any court-ordered restitution to be paid by the trafficker or smuggler must be paid the state, not the victim.

Delegate Joey Garcia, D-Marion, objected to equating trafficking and smuggling, because smuggling may be a good Samaritan act while trafficking always involves harmful exploitation. “That’s just a matter of fundamental unfairness.”

And denying the victims restitution may violate the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he said.

Delegate Evan Hansen offered on Friday a failed amendment to strike the bus driver exemption, and raised the issue again on Monday, because it relieves the driver of any accountability.

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, supported the bill, saying this is the start of a reckoning that the country has to come to grips with. There are certain instances where human smuggling amounts to importing slaves or indentured servants who pay their smugglers and are indebted to them.

“I don’t think this country can afford that,” he said.

The vote was 83-13 and it goes to the Senate. Two Republicans, Delegates Amy Summers, R-Taylor, and Diana Winzenreid, R-Ohio, joined the 11 Democrats against it.

Senate action

SB 568 updates truancy law. Among its provisions, it limits the number of allowed parental notes for excused absences to 10, unless they are supported by a physician’s note. It requires a System of Support plan to encourage attendance. And it requires supporting documentation to be supplied within three days of an absence or it would be considered unexcused.

Mike Azinger

The vote was 31-0 and it goes to the House.

SB 575 is called the Assisted Reproduction Act and establishes regulations for contracts for both genetic surrogacy – when a woman agrees to carry and birth a child and she is the genetic mother – and gestational surrogacy, when she carries and births a child of two other parents.

The bill is 16 pages long, and among its provisions it requires the surrogate to be at least 21 and undergo a medical exam. She must be represented by an attorney of her own choosing who is paid for by the contracting parents. It prohibits surrogacy brokering and specifies that the child belongs to the contracting parents, not to the surrogate.

The vote was 28-3, with Sens. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, and Jay Taylor, R-Taylor, voting no.

HB 4809 is the Health Care Sharing Ministries Freedom to Share Act.

A Health Care Sharing Ministry is not health insurance and not subject to the state’s insurance laws. A sharing ministry serves as a facilitator among ministry members, who agree to assist other members with medical expenses through contributions. A ministry by definition limits its membership who share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs.

The Senate previously passed its own version, SB 375, and the two sides agreed to park that one and move the House bill. It passed 29-2, with Sens. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, and Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, voting no. It goes to the governor.

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