Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, speaks on the Senate floor on March 10, 2022. Photo by Will Price/WV Legislature

A midnight deadline looms for bills to make it across the finish line and head to the governor’s desk. Lawmakers will likely work into the evening tonight and both chambers are set to come back into session at 4:30 this afternoon.

But so far, Saturday has been a relatively slow final day of the session — especially when compared to last year’s chaotic final hours. Many major pieces of legislation, including tax cuts, PEIA changes and the annual budget, have already been completed. 

Still, final votes are still to come on bills to restrict gender-affirming care for minors, improve child literacy and limit child marriage. And no bill is truly dead until the clock strikes midnight.

Limited exemptions added to ban on gender-affirming care for minors 

A bill that will ban gender-affirming health care for minors passed the House on Saturday after it was amended in the Senate last night to include limited exceptions. Only Democrats, who have opposed the ban from its inception, voted against it. The Senate will still have to agree with a technical change made in the House that does not substantively affect the bill.

The bill will still allow minors diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria by two doctors (at least one of whom must be a psychiatric doctor) to receive hormone therapy in cases where it may prevent self-harm or suicide. The bill also calls for doctors to use the lowest possible dose.

The exemption was adopted in an amendment proposed last night by Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, citing over a dozen peer-reviewed studies. 

“If this was a surgery or a cancer treatment, there would be no question,” he said about the effectiveness of gender-affirming care in treating severe depression caused by gender dysphoria.

Bill to hire 2,500 teachers’ aides nears final passage

A major piece of education legislation that was one of the top priorities of House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, looks to soon be headed to the governor’s desk. 

The bill would hire 2,500 teachers’ aides in kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms, create a new literacy-focused curriculum, and require screenings for dyslexia. Earlier this week, senators revived the proposal by amending it into a House bill after the Senate version of the bill was gutted in a House Education Committee meeting.

On Saturday, the House quickly considered the bill, made a technical amendment and sent it back to the Senate to agree to the final changes.

Child marriage ban awaits final vote

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, speaks on the Senate floor on March 10, 2022. Photo by Will Price/WV Legislature

Most of the major bills that were up today have already finished their work (save, perhaps, for technical changes — and the always possible unforeseen surprise), but one notable exception is a bill that will ban child marriage.

Members of the Senate Judiciary committee voted earlier this week not to move the bill to the floor, over the objection of the committee’s chair, Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan. 

So Trump bypassed his committee and made a motion on the Senate floor to revive the bill. 

“There’s 17-year-old girls marrying people 31, 32, 37, 39 — we have to stop this,” he said. “It’s permitted under our current law. It’s horrifying.” 

A compromise amendment, which will ban almost all marriages involving minors, passed the Senate yesterday. Teens 16 or older will be allowed to marry someone no more than four years older than them with parental consent.

Trump also moved to amend an unrelated bill with language that would close a loophole in West Virginia law that keeps many forms of marital rape legal. The move was undermined when Sen. President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, declared the amendment not relevant to the bill after a motion by Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson.

Final vote pending on bill to rollback jail secrecy law; EMS salary fund passes

A bill to rollback the effects of a sweeping 2022 jail secrecy law is still pending a final vote in the Senate. The bill was introduced after reporting from Mountain State Spotlight showed the impact of the new law and some lawmakers said they regretted voting for it last session.
Lawmakers sent SB 737 to the governor’s desk on Saturday. The bill creates a salary enhancement fund for cash-strapped local emergency medical service providers and is allocated $10 million in the state budget passed earlier this week.

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