Budget, unemployment, teen work permits and more stack up as session hits home stretch

With just a week left in the regular legislative session, a lot of lightning rod issues have yet to be resolved.

Here’s where several attention-grabbing issues stand as the session winds toward its stirring conclusion at midnight Saturday.

Budget bill — The House and Senate have each passed their own versions of the budget bill, and now it’s time to reconcile them. The House bill includes pay raises for public employees like teachers, and the Senate bill does not. The House bill also include a phase-out of the state taxes on Social Security benefits, and the Senate’s does not. Somebody’s gotta blink, probably.

A complicating factor is a $465 million obligation to the federal government over whether West Virginia maintained its obligation to uphold its proportional support for education funding when it accepted covid relief funding. That big issue has prompted a call already for a special session in May when officials hope the state’s financial situation will be more clear.

Unemployment — This Senate bill would lower the amount of the unemployment safety net over time. The bill been assigned to House Finance. The reason that bill popped up in the Senate so late was because senators had thought the House would take up a similar policy. Delegates declined to do so earlier, so it’s hard to judge the level of support now.

Dropping work permit requirements for teens — This bill passed by the House marks out portions of existing law detailing work permit requirements for 14- and 15-year-olds. The bill leaves in place a written parental consent standard.

The Senate Workforce Committee examined and advanced the bill Friday afternoon, so it goes to the full Senate. “Was there any discussion  that maybe absent parents who are not the best — you’ve got a couple of kids who might go out there and work, and they want them to work all they can, not necessarily in the child’s best interest?” asked Senator David Stover, R-Wyoming.

Women’s Bill of Rights – This bill that codifies the definitions of “man” and “woman” passed Senate and goes back to House, where it already passed once, because there were a few changes to the wording. So delegates will need to determine whether they agree with what changed.

Gender affirming care –Last year, legislators passed a ban  on gender surgery for minors, but wound up allowing treatment with medication under narrowly-tailored circumstances. Some senators had tailored the exemptions out of concern that some youths going through gender dysphoria may act on suicidal thoughts if they are barred from treatment of any kind.

This year, delegates passed a bill to strike those exceptions, which allow treatment with medicine after approval by two doctors and the minor’s parents or guardians. Now it’s been assigned to Senate Health, where vice-chairman Tom Takubo was the leading voice last year in establishing those exemptions in the first place.

Teachers bearing firearms (or stun guns) – Educators could be considered school protection officers and carry firearms or stun guns in classrooms with a conceal carry permit and 24 hours of training under a bill passed by passed the House. With one week to go, it is double referenced to the Senate’s Judiciary and Finance committees.

Student discipline — The House and Senate have passed separate bills focused on how to handle student discipline problems. The question this week is whether differences can be resolved. The Senate bill was sent to House Education in mid-February and was placed on the House Education Committee agenda for Monday. The House bill was sent to Senate Education at the beginning of February.

School vaccine exemptions — School vaccine requirements would be loosened for virtual schools, private schools and parents citing religious grounds in this bill passed by the House. Critics have argued this would open West Virginia to more spread of communicable disease. The bill has been assigned to Senate Health, which is led by doctors — Mike Maroney, a radiologist, and Tom Takubo, a pulmonologist.

Baby Olivia — Senators voted to require eighth grade viewings of a specific video, “Meet Baby Olivia,” showing insemination and fetal development by a particular national group involved in abortion politics. With one week to go, the bill has been assigned to two House committees, health and education.

Obscenity charges in libraries — Right now, public and school libraries have exemptions to West Virginia’s law against displaying or disseminating obscene material to minors. House Bill 4654 would work by simply removing the exemptions. This bill generated vigorous debate before passing the House. In the Senate, it was assigned to Judiciary back on Feb. 20 but has not been taken up.

Mugshots — Booking photographs of criminal suspects could no longer be made public, except under a few circumstances, by state corrections officials under a bill passed by the House of Delegates. Critics have argued mugshots of arrests represent community news and that prohibiting access amounts to prior restraint. This bill has been assigned to Senate Judiciary.

Travel ball – This bill would allow student athletes to play for their school teams and their travel teams at the same time in the same season. Critics have said the policy would undercut school athletics and run a greater risk of injuries. The bill has been assigned to House Education and was listed on the Monday afternoon agenda. 

Left lane driving — Senators passed a bill that would have made camping out in the left lane a primary offense, with a range of exceptions like construction in the right lane or a left-lane exit. Delegates narrowly voted that down and then passed their own bill to make life in the left-lane a secondary offense. That now makes a U-turn back to the Senate, where it’s on schedule for a Monday passage vote.





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