Hope Scholarship, guns on campus, and divisions within the Republican supermajority emerge after first 40-days of legislative session

By Matthew Young, Real WV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Guns on college campuses, the public funding of private education, and dissension within the Republican supermajority regarding the merits of a Hancock County green energy facility dominated the legislative conversation this week.

On Monday, the Senate passed Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson-sponsored SB 47, which seeks to award taxpayer-funded grant money to private organizations for the purpose of creating new charter schools. 

Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, in the Senate Chamber on Feb. 13.

As explained by Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, “The bill provides an initial grant of $300,000 in the first two years of operation, and an additional grant of $100,000 after receiving that initial [payment].”

SB 47 was passed by a vote of 32 to 1, with only Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, voting against passage.

Also on Monday, the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources advanced SB 585, a bill which seeks to limit the authority county commissioners have over agricultural activities within their jurisdictions. On Tuesday, the House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism advanced legislation to create a loan-securement program for private developers performing work on government-owned property. And on Thursday, the House passed HB 3218, which would require suicide prevention information to be printed on student identification cards. HB 3218 has now been advanced to the Senate’s Education Committee for their consideration. 

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing regarding SB 10 – “The Campus Self-Defense Act.” Also referred to as “Campus Carry,”  SB 10 seeks “to allow persons who are holders of concealed handgun permits to carry concealed on the campuses of the state’s institutions of higher education.” The bill has been denounced by both West Virginia University (WVU), and Marshall University. Additionally, Concord and Shepherd universities have expressed safety concerns should the bill become law. 

During the hearing, WVU Student Government Legal Affairs Liaison Olivia Dowler told committee members, “It’s often invoked in the West Virginia legislature that they’re creating a place to live, work, and raise a family. It (SB 10) doesn’t create a place to live – it creates a place to die.”

Echoing Dowler’s sentiment, Martec Washington, vice-president of the W.Va. Democratic Black Caucus said: “You (legislators) keep doing things that are literally killing us.”

W.Va. Democratic Black Caucus Vice-president Martec Washington addresses the House Judiciary Committee during Wednesday’s public hearing regarding SB 10.

In a second – nearly eight-hour-long – Judiciary Committee meeting later in the day, and while speaking in favor of the bill, Del. Mike Honaker, R-Greenbrier, told colleagues about his experiences during the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. Honaker emotionally recalled contacting parents to notify them of what had happened. 

“Being in a gunfight changes you forever,” Honaker said. 

Del. Mike Honaker, R-Greenbrier, during Wednesday’s meeting of the House Judiciary Committee.

SB 10 was advanced by the Judiciary Committee, and now awaits second reading before the full House of Delegates. 

Also on Wednesday, the House Education Committee approved a plan to expand eligibility of the Hope Scholarship to include all school-age children within the state. The Hope Scholarship is currently available only to students attending one of West Virginia’s public schools. If enacted, the bill (HB 2619) would expand eligibility to include homeschool, private school, and micro-school students, as well as all other non-traditional public school students in the state. HB 2619 will now be considered by the House Committee on Finance. 

Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, during Wednesday’s meeting of the House Committee on Education.

And finally, on Wednesday, the Senate passed HB 2882 – the controversial $290 million appropriation bill which would fund Form Energy’s “reversible rusting” battery plant in Hancock County. Already passed in the House of Delegates by a vote of 69 to 25, the bill has been a hotly-debated issue amongst Republicans. 

According to Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, Form Energy intends to make, “wind, water, and solar the only source of (energy) generation in the world.” 

While speaking with RealWV last week, Del. Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, said: “For us to roll the dice with $300 million – taking money from coal and gas, by the way – to prop up a private company that will not be paying business taxes into the state coffers, is a high-risk investment.” 

However, Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke – whose senatorial district would serve as home to the planned facility – felt differently, saying, “If Form is successful, then we’ve got a tremendous economic driver in our state.”

Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, speaks in favor of HB 2882 in the Senate Chamber on Wednesday.

HB 2882 was passed in the Senate by a vote of 21 to 13, and now awaits Gov. Jim Justice’s approval. 

With 40 days now complete, there are 20 days remaining in the current 2023 legislative session. RealWV will provide continual legislative updates until the conclusion of the session on March 11. 

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