West Virginia lawmakers are talking about some of the most important issues facing our state. But are they getting to the root of problems and proposing real solutions? We addressed that question in more than one story this week in our coverage of the legislative session.
It’s been about two years since COVID-19 first reached West Virginia, and lawmakers are still grappling with the best way to handle the virus and its shifting variants.
The virus is still killing thousands of Americans each day, and has killed about 6,000 West Virginians since officials started tracking it. But reporter Quenton King showed that state lawmakers have chosen to focus on weakening COVID-related restrictions, rather than trying to limit the spread of the virus itself. They’ve introduced at least five bills that would go against recommended medical measures to combat the virus, or restrict the ability of local governments (like county school boards) to follow that advice.
Another area where West Virginia legislators are trying to make a difference, but could direct their efforts more effectively, is preventing child abuse. As reporter Emily Allen wrote, lawmakers are trying to toughen penalties for those who abuse special education students in schools, after hearing of instances where those children were mistreated.
But advocates for abused children say the state should be providing ounces of prevention instead of doling out pounds of cure. An approach that prevents the abuse from happening — one that includes providing money to fund programs passed in previous years — would help more children before they get hurt, those advocates say.
Also this week, reporter Douglas Soule looked at efforts by lawmakers to oversee a huge pot of money that’s about to arrive to help fix the state’s longstanding broadband internet problems.
Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, has introduced a bill that would let lawmakers sanction companies like Frontier, which has received lots of money to fix West Virginia’s broadband issues and not followed through, if they promise something and don’t do it. The bill would also establish more legislative oversight of the state Department of Economic Development, which (unlike many similar departments) doesn’t have a committee specifically dedicated to overseeing it.
In a short update on a bill he wrote about previously, Quenton reported that a bill that would prohibit abortion in West Virginia more than 15 weeks after conception has passed another committee. The bill is similar to a Mississippi law that is being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Quenton provided that update via our Capitol Tracker, which is an easy way to keep an eye on some of the bills we’re watching this session, with occasional dispatches from our reporters. And our Power and Possums newsletter course provides a primer on how these bills may become laws, and lots more on how the Legislature really works.
| MetroNews covered a public hearing on the bill labeled the “Anti-Stereotyping Act,” where speakers overwhelmingly opposed the bill. Critics say the bill would effectively stop teachers from discussing race and gender and how they have affected the history of the United States.
| The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that a new push to eliminate the state income tax passed a House of Delegates committee, but still faces major questions.
| The Associated Press reported on the state Senate passing a bill that would limit the amount of time West Virginians can draw unemployment benefits.