By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Smoking in public places, creating the “Affordable Medicaid Buy-in Program,” and preventing China from purchasing agricultural land in West Virginia were on the agenda Saturday, as the House of Delegates began the final stretch of the 2023 legislative session.
In total, the House passed 25 bills during the Saturday-session, including HB 2567 – a bill which creates updated definitions of “unlawful trespassing.” The bill also establishes harsher penalties for trespassing convictions.
As stated in the bill: “Any person who knowingly enters in, upon, or under a structure or conveyance without being authorized, licensed, or invited, or having been authorized, licensed, or invited is requested to depart by the owner, tenant, or the agent of the owner or tenant, and refuses to do so, is guilty.”
Should HB 2567 be enacted, anyone convicted of unlawful trespassing would be fined $100, and imprisoned for up to six-months. In the case of a subsequent conviction, the fine is between $1,000 and $5,000, with a jail term of between one and five years.
Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, raised concerns over the use of the word “dwelling,” saying that abandoned, unused or infrequently used properties where people do not currently reside often become temporary shelters for the state’s homeless population. Pushkin argued that HB 2567 does little to correct a problem, but would potentially exacerbate another.
“I understand wanting to protect the property owners, but I think this is a bit heavy-handed,” Pushkin said. “I see a scenario where someone who doesn’t have a place to stay – a homeless person – if they enter a place that wasn’t in use at the time, two times and they go to prison.”
“I’m all for protecting the property owners, but this is a bill that will actually put people in prison for being homeless,” Pushkin added.
HB 2567 was passed by a vote of 82 to nine.
Del. Jordan Maynor’s, R-Raleigh, bill to permit the operation of indoor “cigar bars” was considerably more hotly debated by House members. Under the terms of HB 3341, indoor smoking areas would be allowed within designated businesses for the use of all tobacco and vaping products.
While Del. Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, expressed his support of HB 3341 on the basis of it being a “freedom bill,” Del. Adam Burkhammer, R-Lewis disagreed, saying, “I think we’re moving in the wrong direction.”
Burkhammer cited the state’s recent creation of the Tobacco Prevention Task Force as evidence of commitment to public health, noting, “We’re moving in the wrong direction for things that we’ve said we do not want in public places anymore.”
“I support freedom,” Burkhammer added. “But you can take your freedom and smoke outside.”
Delegates Pushkin and Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, both raised concerns over the wellbeing of employees who may be exposed to second-hand smoke, while Del. Patrick Lucas, R-Cabell, said that cigar smoking is “a pleasure, it’s relaxing, and it’s therapeutic.”
“Also, the smoking of premium, hand-rolled cigars is not addictive,” Lucas added. “The FDA, which hates the cigar industry, did a study about five years ago on the health effects of premium, hand-rolled cigars. And the FDA determined that if you smoke two premium, hand-rolled cigars every day, it has zero health effects.”
“This bill is meant for cigar lounges,” Lucas concluded. “I guarantee you, there will be no cigarette smoking and vaping in these places. They’ll be cigars and pipes, and that’s it. Trust me.”
Del. Tom Fast, R-Fayette, was not convinced by Lucas’ argument.
“It’s no secret that tobacco is a controlled substance,” Fast said. “My friend from the 6th (Lucas) guaranteed that there will not be cigarette smoking. I find that very, very untenable. The whole title of ‘cigar bar’ is completely misleading.”
“Also, it was mentioned that cigars are not all that unhealthy,” Fast continued. “But we all know, let’s not fool ourselves – I don’t even have to say it, but I’ll say it – tobacco is unhealthy. That’s why, hence, it is a regulated substance.”
Despite strong opposition by most who spoke to the bill, HB 3341 passed by a vote of 57 to 33.
Among the other 23 bills passed by the House on Saturday were:
- HB 2065: the “West Virginia Heavy Duty Truck Excise Tax Elimination Act.”
- HB 2760: allowing firefighters to drive ambulances when both attendants are needed to administer patient care.
- HB 3006: the “West Virginia Critical Infrastructure Protection Act.”
- HB 3059: giving PSC (Public Service Commission) authority to fine Class I railroads for safety and operational violations.
- HB 3274: the “Affordable Medicaid Buy-in Program”
- HB 3493: prohibiting China from acquiring ownership of agricultural land in West Virginia.
The House also passed HB 3398, allowing for the creation of a memorial for the “Fallen Heroes of the Global War on Terrorism.”
As stated in the bill, the memorial will preserve the memory of “West Virginia soldiers killed in action in the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations of the United States War on Terror.”
RealWV will provide continual updates throughout the duration of the legislative session.