Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, speaks on the House of Delegates floor on Feb. 3, 2022. Fast, vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is lead sponsor of two bills that would allow people and businesses to deny services to LGBTQ people. Photo by Perry Bennett / WV Legislative Photography.

A major advance in equal protection for LGBTQ people in West Virginia, which might not matter depending on what state lawmakers say, or don’t say. That, plus dispatches on unemployment benefits, fentanyl tests and more from our Capitol Tracker, in this week’s legislative roundup.

LGBTQ rights

Robb Livingood, a transgender person, argues he was passed over for a public defender’s job because of his gender status. The decision in his favor establishes a legal precedent that West Virginia’s Human Rights Act protects LGBTQ people. 

The public defender’s office is appealing the decision, but it might not matter. As reporter Ian Karbal detailed, lawmakers have introduced bills that would resolve the issue either way; some bills (including at least one bipartisan effort) would specifically include sexual orientation and gender status in anti-discrimation laws, while others would make it harder to take steps to protect LGBTQ people.

Capitol Tracker

Reporter Douglas Soule is keeping track of a bill that would limit the number of weeks West Virginians could draw unemployment benefits. In a dispatch on our  Capitol Tracker, Douglas noted earlier this week that the head of WorkForce West Virginia said that he didn’t know of any evidence that cutting benefits off sooner pushes people back into the workforce. But he still says he believes that to be the case. The bill is scheduled to be on the Senate floor on Monday.

In another dispatch, reporter Quenton King notes the progress of a bill that would remove fentanyl test strips from the state’s list of drug paraphernalia. Under current law, people who have the strips face a misdemeanor and a fine. The bill has moved on to its second committee in the House. 

Mountain State Spotlight reporters are keeping track of some of the major bills at the Legislature through our Capitol Tracker. And if you want to know more about how the Legislature works and haven’t signed up for our Power and Possums newsletter course, you can do that. It’s just six newsletters, and you get the first one after you sign up.

Delegates (left to right) Bryan Ward, R-Hardy; Margitta Mazzocchi, R-Logan; and Jordan Maynor, R-Raleigh, discuss a bill on the House floor. Photo by Perry Bennett / WV Legislative Photography.

Other news

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that the House passed a bill that increases penalties for certain voting crimes. There were no dissenting votes, but at least one delegate questioned why such a bill might be needed. Another opponent said it is part of Republicans’ efforts “to fuel lies and conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen.”

The Associated Press reported on another bill that prompted questions about why it’s needed. The lead sponsor of the bill, which mirrors other measures on “critical race theory” in other states, acknowledged such issues aren’t a problem in West Virginia, but said he wanted to be “proactive.”

MetroNews reported on a bill that would eliminate the 1-cent tax on soda pop, which was introduced in 1951 to fund the West Virginia University School of Medicine. The bill’s proponents said another funding stream would be set up for the medical schools at WVU and Marshall and the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg.

Greg Moore is a co-founder. Greg grew up in Morgantown and graduated from West Virginia University. He spent nearly 25 years as an editor and reporter at the Charleston Gazette and Charleston Gazette-Mail....