House votes to ban underage marriage; allocates $12 million in funding for Fire and EMS

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Wednesday marked day number 50 of the 2023 legislative session, also known as “crossover day” – the last day bills on third reading may be considered in their house of origin.

To mark the occasion, the House of Delegates worked through 28 bills on third reading, including one aimed at prohibiting underage marriage, as well as another which seeks to redistribute tax revenue among fire departments and emergency medical service (EMS) providers. 

Sponsored by Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, HB 3018 would make it unlawful for any individual under the age of 18 from getting married for any reason, and regardless of consent from a parent or guardian. If HB 3018 were to become law, existing underage marriages would not be voided, providing that couple remains together once they are of legal age. 

Del. Keith Marple, R-Harrison, opposed the bill, saying, “I’m older than most of the people in this room, and I’m speaking from experience.”

“I had a daughter who got pregnant under the age of 18,” Marple noted. “If you have consenting parents who agree that these children under 18 should get married, and they’re going to help them, and they’re going to be loving – and if the issue is pregnancy, you’re going to have two sets of grandparents who are going to look after these children and help.”

“This issue deals with people,” Marple added. “People under 18 are going to go out of state to get married, or they’re going to go out of state to get an abortion. You’re voting on people’s lives.”

The House passed HB 3018 by a vote of 84 to 13. Before debate began over the funding of fire departments and EMS providers, the House voted to raise the salaries of the state’s constitutional officers at the start of the political term beginning in Jan. 2025. 

As explained by Del. Vernon Criss, R-Wood, HB 3135, “Would provide that the annual salaries of the governor, the attorney general, the auditor, the secretary of state, the commissioner of agriculture, and the state treasurer beginning in calendar year 2025 be as follows: governor would be at $180,000 per year. Other constitutional officers at $115,000.”

As at least five current members of the House of Delegates are seeking a constitutional office in the upcoming elections of 2024, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, directed all members to cast a vote regardless of possible future conflicts of interest. HB 3135 was passed by a vote of 73 to 22.

HB 3153 – sponsored by Del. Rolland Jennings, R-Preston – which seeks to reallocate approximately $12 million in excess lottery dollars to volunteer fire departments and EMS providers. An amendment proposed by Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, altered the bill from its introduced form – allowing for the funds-reallocation in lieu of a tax increase.

Those critical of Linville’s amendment depicted it as “gambling on gambling,” with the amendment’s most vocal critic, Del. Criss, saying, “I don’t want to take anyone’s happiness away, but I am the bearer of reaper news.”

Criss argued that, after the state’s existing financial obligations have been met, the excess lottery revenue fund does not have enough money to provide the approximately $12 million the bill calls for to fire departments and EMS providers. 

“This move could very well damage our bond rating,” Criss continued. “When you vote for this – and I understand the vote will be overwhelming, and that’s fine – I just wanted to let you know that I’ve expressed a caution here.”

Speaking in support of the bill, Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, said, “I know we might be gambling on gambling, but it’s kind of the only choice we have right now.”

“State government, to me, its purpose is four-fold,” Summers added. “Provide education, care for the needy, infrastructure, and public safety. Fire and EMS are infrastructure for public safety.”

“Ems and Fire work hand-in-hand everyday to take care of our citizens,” Summers concluded. “And all I know is, when somebody in my community calls 911, I want somebody to answer.”

HB 3153 was passed by a vote of 94 to one, with only Criss voting against. 

Also on Wednesday, House members voted to prohibit county commissions from establishing regulations for farmers and agricultural-workers that exceed those currently set forth by the state. 

As explained by Del. Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, HB 3313, “restrains county commissions from establishing or approving ordinances, rules, regulations, or other actions that cancel or alter the purchase of federal or state registered pesticides, herbicides, or insecticide products.”

With no debate on the bill, HB 3313 was passed by a vote of 82 to seven. 

RealWV will provide continual updates throughout the remainder of the 2023 legislative session. 

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