Guns, unemployment, and governmental transparency cap off busy third week of legislative session

By Matthew Young, Real WV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – With the third week of the 2023 legislative session now behind us, lawmakers are showing no signs of slowing down. After only 18 days, 65 bills have been passed between the Senate and the House of Delegates. With both bodies seemingly willing to trade transparency for expediency, they are on pace to create nearly 200 new laws by the end of the 60 day session. 

Although no progress was made with regard to Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed income tax cut, both houses stood united in their desire to allow concealed weapons on school property. 

On Tuesday, the Senate passed SB 10 – the “Campus Self-Defense Act,” which would allow permit holders to carry concealed handguns on state-owned college campuses. 

Prior to the vote, Sen. Rupie Phillips, R-Logan, told his Senate colleagues: “This is what West Virginia is, we’ve got a gun on our seal. Thank God for West Virginia and freedom.”

Sen. Rupie Phillips, R-Logan.

SB 10 was passed by a vote of 29 to four. 

On Wednesday, delegates in the House Education Committee advanced HB 2549, which would allow designated elementary, middle, and high school teachers and staff members to bring concealed handguns into any public school building within their county. Those designated would remain anonymous, with their identity known only to the county superintendent and law enforcement. 

Speaking in opposition of the bill; particularly the haste with which it was brought to committee vote, Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell said: “We didn’t listen to the concerns of students. I think there’s a better way to do this that also listens to the concerns of parents, students, and teachers.”

Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell.

Del. Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, disagreed, saying, “This bill, I would submit, increases security for those teachers, for those students.”

Del. Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier.

The across-the-building cooperation continued as both houses united to limit the governor’s authority during declared states of emergency. SB 128, which was unanimously adopted by the Senate one week prior, passed the House on Tuesday by a vote of 93 to three. However, the House altered the bill by reducing the time allowed for a declared state of emergency from 90 days to 60 days. Only delegates Jim Butler, R-Mason, Henry Dillon, R-Wayne, and Todd Kirby, R-Raleigh voted against passage. 

On Monday, the Senate voted to add eligibility restrictions, as well as shorten the length of time that those filing for unemployment insurance can receive benefits. SB 59, sponsored by Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, would reduce the benefit eligibility period from 26 weeks to 12 weeks while the state’s unemployment rate is at or below 5.5%.

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, was not in favor of the bill, telling his fellow senators: “I look around this chamber, and I see a lot of very successful businessmen and women. I don’t know how many of you ever had to survive on unemployment benefits. I have to speak my mind when I see injustices occurring, especially to the men and women who make West Virginia go.”

SB 59 passed the Senate by a vote of 27 to five. 

To kick off a busy Thursday, the Senate passed SB 21. Should the bill be signed into law, it will restrict public access to certain government documents containing payroll information. Prior to the floor vote, bill sponsor Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, said, “The purpose of this bill is to simply protect the employees from identity theft.”

Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer.

SB 21 was passed by a vote of 28 to two, with only Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, and Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, voting against it. 

Also on Thursday, the House advanced HB 2113 and HB 2879, which seek to increase penalties for child abuse, and provide pay increases for corrections workers, respectively. And lastly, the Senate advanced SB 273, which mandates that counties allocate their Child Protective Service (CPS) staff size based on the 2020 census. 

The RealWV will provide continual legislative updates throughout the 2023 Regular Session.


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