The deadline for delegates to introduce new bills was earlier this week; the deadline for senators is Monday. And if a bill hasn’t made it out of committees in its chamber of origin by Sunday, Feb. 27, it’s not going to happen this year.
So it’s not surprising that this week, we saw a flurry of activity as legislators try to get their priorities through committees and safely to the other chamber before the deadline.
A bill to limit abortions in West Virginia to pregnancies younger than 15 weeks also cleared the House after more than an hour of debate. The bill is similar to one passed in Mississippi, which is currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. This isn’t the only bill to restrict West Virginians’ ability to get an abortion introduced in this year’s Legislature, but it is the only one which has been moving. Another bill — one to ban abortions when they’re sought because of a fetal anomaly — that anti-abortion groups said was a priority before the session began hasn’t moved out of a Senate committee yet. Reporter Quenton King laid out the landscape before the session in this piece.
Senators are moving to approve a bill that would require the head of the Department of Health and Human Resources to report annually how the agency is allocating child protective services workers around the state. The way these workers are spread around has been under scrutiny lately, as the agency reported that 27% of its social workers positions were vacant in November. Some counties are missing half of their workforce.
Another foster care bill cleared the House Finance committee Thursday and heads to the full chamber. This legislation would give social workers a 15% pay raise, in an effort to recruit and retain employees amid a shortage, as well as make changes to what the state’s foster care ombudsman has to disclose.
After months of listening tours and finishing a report with dozens of suggestions to address the serious issues facing West Virginia’s coal communities, a legislative committee has mustered up only four bills to help. Of those bills, none include funding measures, though the committee’s minority chair said he hoped other legislators would see fit to allocate funding.
This outcome is in stark contrast to the promises House of Delegates leaders made when the committee was formed. At the time, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said the group would be empowered with coming up with “solid recommendations” and then tasked with “driv[ing] those solutions home to the full Legislature when we come back next session.”
- The Charleston Gazette-Mail and West Virginia MetroNews both had stories about legislation aimed at blocking lawsuits by workers who are hurt on the job, and about former Supreme Court Justice Evan Jenkins appearing before lawmakers on behalf of that bill.
- Lawmakers are also rushing to give the state’s natural gas industry a broad exemption to the chemical storage tank law approved following the 2014 Elk River chemical spill, as reported in the Gazette-Mail.
- West Virginia MetroNews reported on the movement of a bill to rework the state’s higher education funding formula, a topic that was a focus on a Mountain State Spotlight story earlier this week.
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