By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – With week number four now in the rearview, state lawmakers are nearing the halfway point of the 2023 legislative session. And with seven more settings of the sun, education, healthcare, and the Marshall University baseball field have emerged as the reigning cerberus of the legislative supermajority.
In a very long and contentious meeting on Monday, the House Education Committee advanced SB 130 – also referred to as the “Anti-Racism Act of 2023.” The highly controversial bill was exempted from public scrutiny while in the Senate as it was passed, on Jan. 11, during the now infamous “rule-suspension.”
Described by Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, as a “red meat bill,” SB 130 would prohibit teaching the concept that “one race is inherently, morally or intellectually superior to another race,” or that, “an individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race.” However, the bill makes no provisions for discrimination based upon religious beliefs. Another criticism of SB 130 is that the bill creates no tangible definition of the word “racism.” While Democratic-proposed amendments addressing those concerns were offered, both were summarily rejected.
W.Va. Education Association President Dale Lee told the committee: “Based on how this bill is written, I absolutely have major concerns.”
The House Education Committee’s Senate counterpart, on Thursday, advanced SB 216 – requiring that public schools teach lessons on the Holocaust and other historical genocides. The committee’s meeting also featured a presentation from Dale Lee, which deteriorated into a debate regarding mandates in public schools versus those in private schools.
Sen. Laura Chapman, R-Ohio, argued that because educators are unelected, and taxpayer money is used to fund public schools, she feels that legislators “have the right to put on mandates for public schools.”
In response to Chapman, Lee referenced the “Hope Scholarship,” saying, “To say that you can only put mandates on public schools because that’s where the taxpayers dollars are going is not accurate, because taxpayers dollars are now going to private schools and homeschoolers too.”
On Friday, the House passed HB 2007 – a bill that would ban aspects of gender affirming care for minors. The day prior, the House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing regarding HB 2007, marking the first time in the process that lawmakers considered testimony from medical experts. Despite their objections and warnings as to the dangerous nature of the bill, HB 2007 was adopted in the House by a vote of 84 to 10.
Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, affirmed her belief that the bill’s intention was to create division – not protect children, saying, “We have put politics over evidence-based healthcare. We have put politics over families. We have put politics over our children. We have put politics over the trans community. We have put politics over the trans youth in our mountain state.”
Friday also saw the Senate Finance Committee begin hearings to investigate Gov. Jim Justice’s potentially inappropriate use of federal coronavirus relief funding (CRF) to, among other things, renovate the Marshall University baseball field. The investigation was spurred by a $28 million transfer of CRF dollars into the governor’s Gifts, Grants, and Donations (GGD) Fund.
While the governor’s lawyers argued that the transfer and expenditure were “handled completely legally and completely appropriately,” Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, disagreed.
“The governor put this ($28 million of CRF funds) into a discretionary account (GGD) and used it to put astroturf on a baseball field. What part of that is appropriate?” Tarr asked.
As of Sunday, 37 bills have been passed by the House of Delegates, and 83 by the Senate. With both houses seemingly increasing the speed with which bills are being pushed through, the legislature is now on pace to create more than 250 news laws by midnight on March 11.
RealWV will provide continual legislative updates throughout the 2023 Regular Session.