W.Va. Senate suspends rules during first day of Legislative Session, advances 23 bills

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The state’s 86th Legislature was gavelled into session on Wednesday, and while the House of Delegates published several hundred bills intended for introduction, the Senate opted to bypass protocol. Choosing to suspend constitutional-rules which require that proposed legislation be read three separate times on three different days, the Senate moved immediately forward by voting on 23 bills – passing each one. 

The first to be pushed through, SB 126, seeks to reorganize the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) into three separate departments – the Department of Health Facilities, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Health – by Dec. 1 of this year. 

Next, SB 127, seeks to increase the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) hospital reimbursement rate to 110% of the current Medicaid rate. The same bill – designated as SB 574 – was passed by the Senate during the 2022 session, but was not voted on by the House of Delegates. 

“For those who are in the gallery or listening at home, you may think, ‘What is the rush?’” Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said, in defense of the Senate’s decision to suspend the constitutional-rules. “Wheeling Hospital recently announced, beginning July 1, it was not going to accept PEIA because of the abysmal reimbursement rate – 50% of [Medicaid].”

Senator Ryan Weld, R-Brooke

The Senate then passed SB 128 and SB 129, which seek to limit the governor’s authority regarding the declaration of states of preparedness and emergency, and discretionary-spending of federal funds, respectively. 

While in favor of the rules suspension as it pertained to the first two bills of the day, Sen. Michael Woelfel, D-Cabell, was not in favor of doing so to limit  the governor’s authority, saying, “This does feel like a punch in the mouth at our particular governor (Jim Justice).”

Senator Michael Woelfel, D-Cabell

“This is a brand new legislature,” Woelfel continued. “We have many new members, we have new committee chairs, and we even have new committees. I don’t see any reason for us to speed through the process. I think we’re sacrificing transparency.”

From there, the Senate took up SB 130, the “Anti-Racism Act of 2023,” which seeks to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in West Virginia’s public schools. 

Woelfel again stood in opposition, asking newly appointed Education Committee Chair Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, “Are our kids tough enough to learn about racism, segregation, and slavery? Are we handcuffing teachers with this bill?”

“Can you name any school in West Virginia where kids are being taught that, because of their ancestry, they’re inferior to other people?” Woelfel continued. “Is that actually a thing that’s going on in our state? And if so, can you name some schools where that’s happening?”

Grady gave a vague response, simply alluding to “some parents and some teachers” whom she had heard from. 

Woelfel appeared unsatisfied with Grady’s answer, saying, “Respectfully, what you heard that somebody told somebody else… In West Virginia, is there any school where this has happened – where this has been a real thing? Or are we just trying to address ‘woke,’ or whatever that word means?”

“Has it happened anywhere that you’re specifically aware of?” Woelfel asked. 

“No, I couldn’t tell you a specific school,” Grady replied. “It is, I guess in a way, hearsay. I’m hearing from parents who say, ‘My child says this is happening in school.’ We do need to address it when that happens.”

Senator Amy Grady, R-Mason

In addition, the complete list of bills passed by the Senate on Wednesday includes:

  • SB 131, seeking to allow municipal fire marshals to receive service weapon upon retirement.
  • SB 132, seeking to clarify the definition of criminal harassment.
  • SB 133, seeking to add the definition of “ammunition” for purposes of obtaining a state license to carry concealed deadly weapon.
  • SB 134, seeking to protect consumers against businesses using automatic renewals without consent.
  • SB 135, relating to Uniform Controlled Substances Act.
  • SB 136, seeking to require persons convicted of certain offenses to undergo psychological or psychiatric testing and have a treatment plan to be eligible for probation.
  • SB 137, seeking to clarify offenses of kidnapping and unlawful restraint.
  • SB 138, seeking to clarify secondary sources are not law and public policy of WV in certain instances.
  • SB 139, seeking to require each county BOE to ensure all its meetings are open to the public through in-person attendance and broadcast live on its website.
  • SB 140, seeking to update the offenses of extortion and attempted extortion.
  • SB 141, seeking to add Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation employees working at certain institutions to WV Emergency Responders Survivor Benefits Act.
  • SB 142, seeking to modify procedures to settle estates of decedents.
  • SB 143, relating to Adopt-A-Stream Program.
  • SB 145, seeking to allow county BOE participating in operation of multi-county vocational center to withdraw.
  • SB 146, seeking to modify regulations of peer-to-peer car sharing program.
  • SB 147, seeking to create pilot program for recovery residences in Cabell County.
  • SB 148, relating to municipalities required to be represented on county authority boards.
  • SB 149, seeking to exempt certain organizations from property taxation.

Each of the 23 bills passed by the Senate will be forwarded to the House of Delegates for their consideration. 

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