The vote tally after the West Virginia Senate passed a bill legalizing campus carry, 29 to 4. Photo by Will Price/WV Legislative Photography.

West Virginia lawmakers in a House committee advanced a proposal to consolidate nuclear regulation. Last year, the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a bill to curtail the Governor’s emergency powers; this year there’s a similar set of proposals moving at the statehouse. But first, campus carry.

Campus carry passes Senate, goes to House

A bill that would allow people with a concealed carry permit to carry weapons in many areas of public college campuses around the state has cleared the Senate.

Lawmakers passed the bill 29-4 on Tuesday, with one lawmaker absent. It will have to pass the House and be signed by the Governor to become law.

“This is freedom,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Rupie Phillips, R-Logan. Speaking about his teenage daughter, he added, “when she goes to college, she will have her concealed carry permit … I want her to have it, and I promise you she will have it around her all the time.”

The bill was passed over the opposition of state university administrators and many members of the schools’ student bodies.

In a joint letter to lawmakers, West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and Marshall University President Brad Smith wrote, “Whether it is mental health challenges facing some students, discussion about grades, recruitment of new students and faculty, or the protection of open and honest debate of ideas, we are concerned about inserting firearms into these types of situations.”

There are some exceptions, many requested by university leaders. If the bill passes the House unamended, concealed weapons will not be allowed in on-campus day care facilities, at spectator events like football games with attendance of more than 1,000, in rooms where student or faculty disciplinary hearings are held, individual offices, in mental health care facilities, in all areas of dorms except for common areas, and other “secure” buildings. Schools will also have to provide some type of secure storage for the weapons.

Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, was the lone Republican to vote against the bill. —Ian Karbal

West Virginia may soon regulate state’s nuclear materials instead of the federal government

Del. Bill Anderson, R-Wood, center, looks over a document during a committee meeting last year. Photo by Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography.

Some lawmakers are pushing to let the state government oversee key aspects of the safety and regulation of nuclear materials and facilities, instead of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is a federal agency.

The change would make West Virginia a nuclear “agreement state” and allow it to collect licensing fees from facilities that handle nuclear waste, which last year totaled $1.3 million. However, those licensing fees would not be allowed to move to the general fund — they would stay within the state’s nuclear program. 

39 states across the nation are currently nuclear agreement states.

Currently, the Department of Health and Human Resources oversees all low-level radiation safety and radiation programs: things like microwaves and X-rays. The bill, HB 2896, that cleared the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee Tuesday would move all of that out of DHHR and into the Department of Environmental Protection. But it would also put the DEP in charge of overseeing more serious radioactive materials that the NRC currently oversees: materials with atoms that spontaneously decay, instead of merely radiation that stops when machines are unplugged.

“I think we’re trying to consolidate any functions of nuclear regulation in one department,” committee chair Del. Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said on the purpose of the bill.

Should the bill pass, the DEP will develop rules for the regulation of nuclear-generating equipment and nuclear materials including the storage, production, transfer, and receiving of that material. Should something go wrong, the federal government will not assume responsibility for fixing it.

The DHHR currently has a number of employees trained in regulating radiation, according to Robert E. Akers, the committee’s attorney. The DEP has none, as they don’t currently regulate radiation.

Both Akers and DEP Deputy Secretary for External Affairs Scott Mandirola noted that it wasn’t the DEP or the DHHR, but the Legislature, that pushed for the change. 

“If they see it fit to throw it our way, we would have to develop a program,” Mandirola said. 

“I don’t feel anything,” he replied when asked about his thoughts on the DEP being given the new responsibility. “We will do what the Legislature tells us to do.”

The bill will next have to clear both the Judiciary and Finance committees, before going before the full House. —Alexa Beyer

Bill to curtail gubernatorial emergency powers clears both chambers

Gov. Jim Justice addresses lawmakers earlier this month during his State of the State address. Photo by Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography.

The House of Delegates has passed a long-sought bill that would limit the Governor’s emergency powers, though it’s unclear if the Senate will agree with their changes.

Since 2021, members of both chambers have attempted to pass such a bill in response to what they believed was executive overreach during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the two bodies have been unable to agree on what the proper response should be.

The bill left the Senate with a unanimous vote on the first day of session along with a host of other bills that passed the body, but never saw final passage, the previous year. It required the governor to notify the Legislature in writing if they wanted to extend a state of emergency beyond 60 days.

After being amended in the House Government Organization Committee, the bill as it stands would limit any governor-imposed state of emergency to a 60-day period without legislators agreeing to extend it in a special session. It would also block the disruption of either religious services or firearm and ammunition sales.
In 2021, a similar bill died when the House and Senate could not agree to how long a state of emergency should be able to last without express legislative approval. —Ian Karbal

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Ian Karbal is a Report for America corps member, and the state government watchdog reporter for Mountain State Spotlight.

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Alexa Beyer is the Environment and Energy reporter for Mountain State Spotlight.