One of the first bills introduced in this year’s legislative session was for an industry that, at first, didn’t particularly want the help. Another bill passed by lawmakers may hurt some West Virginians just when they need it most. That and more in this week’s legislative roundup.
State-funded mining insurance
Senate Bill 1: The designation shows how important state Senate President Craig Blair thought the creation of a state-funded insurance company to help mine operators otherwise unable to get reclamation bonds (required by law to cover the cost of cleaning up mine sites).
Blair, R-Berkeley, said the bill was “sorely needed.” But as reporter Ian Karbal found out, the coal industry didn’t agree. A longtime West Virginia Coal Association leader wrote that his group wasn’t sure the bill was needed, or wanted, by his industry. The bill, which raced through the Senate, has been in a House committee since Jan. 27.
About 300 workers at the Cleveland-Cliffs coke plant in the Northern Panhandle will be out of a job come this summer. By definition, the state’s unemployment system is meant for times like this: to help West Virginians who have lost their jobs and need some time to find other ways to make ends meet.
But reporter Amelia Ferrell Knisely reported that state lawmakers are poised to cut the benefits available to West Virginians like Shannon Baldauf and her coworkers at the Cleveland-Cliffs plant. Legislators say reducing benefits will push people back into the workforce faster — even though proponents, including the head of WorkForce West Virginia, can’t point to any evidence proving that.
On Mountain State Spotlight’s Capitol Tracker, reporter Quenton King provided updates on a bill that would prohibit women from getting abortions if medical tests showed their fetus had various kinds of disability. State senators amended the bill to remove criminal penalties for doctors who provide abortions, and to allow abortions if tests show the fetus would be unable to survive because of its disabilities.
After reporting on the burdens faced by the state’s overwhelmed foster care system, Amelia noted that a bill meant to alleviate some of those problems passed the House of Delegates, with just one dissenting vote.
Amelia also reported that, for the fourth time in as many years, some lawmakers are trying to make sure West Virginia kids have enough to eat on days when their schools aren’t open, including unexpected closings. The bill passed one House committee this week, and is now sitting in House Finance.
Reporters provided lots of updates on other bills this week, including measures to add a fee for people who post bond after they’re arrested; limit the places where homeless people could be sheltered; and make sure child abuse reports get to more county officials.
You can use our Capitol Tracker to follow along with the major bills we’re paying attention to during this session. And if you want to know more about how the Legislature functions as the session draws to a close, it’s never too late to sign up for our Power and Possums newsletter course, which offers six daily newsletters about how laws are made at the Capitol.
| The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports on questions raised about West Virginia’s version of the bill that says what teachers can and cannot teach in public schools.
| MetroNews reports on a bill that would let casinos open a satellite location in the same county. The bill’s sponsor says he wants to let Mardi Gras Casino in Kanawha County open a location in the Town Center Mall in Charleston.
| The Parkersburg News and Sentinel reports on a bill that would let WV government departments handle more of their purchases on their own, without the state Purchasing Division overseeing them.