Moonshine, intelligent design, when life begins, and the rules of adoption take center stage as Lawmakers wrap up week three

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – While week two of the 2024 Legislative session saw the gloves begin to be untied, in week three, those gloves finally came off. 

After a lengthy debate on Thursday, House members soundly voted down a bill which would have required those arrested to submit to warrantless DNA harvesting. HB 4627, sponsored by Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, was defeated by a vote of 66 to 30, after numerous delegates raised Fourth Amendment concerns. Also on Thursday, delegates unanimously passed HB 4595. Proposed By Del. Heather Tully, R-Nicholas, the bill makes it possible for the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability (LOCHHRA) to enter into executive session in order to exempt certain sensitive information from the Freedom of Information Act.

The bill was reportedly necessitated by “waste and inefficiency in state programs,” with Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, saying it was, “Incredibly unfortunate that a bill like this is necessary.”

Another House bill that passed this week was HB 4793, although its passage was anything but unanimous. In one of the stranger occurrences of the session thus far, the controversial “moonshine-legalization” bill squeaked through the House on Wednesday by a vote of 49 to 48. However House Clerk Steve Harrison apparently overlooked it when communicating the day’s other bills to the Senate for their consideration. A motion to revisit the bill was made on Thursday, followed by a motion to table it until Friday. Several Delegates, including Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, and Doug Smith, R-Mercer, both of whom voted in favor of the bill, as well as Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier – who voted against – raised questions as to why the bill was still in the House’s possession. 

By Friday, HB 4793 had been assigned to the Senate Committee on Government Organization, and no further mention of it was made in the House. 

Also on Wednesday, the House Education Committee advanced two bills that would seem to pick up where the 2023 session left off. HB 4299 seeks to designate certain volunteer K-12 public school teachers as “school protection officers.” Under this designation, that teacher would be permitted to carry a concealed handgun at all times while on school property. HB 4806, proposed by Del. Dave Foggin, R-Wood, would require public school bathroom use to be based upon the gender identified on one’s birth certificate. Both bills are now with the House Judiciary Committee. 

Speaking of the House Judiciary Committee, Wednesday also saw their holding of a public hearing in the House Chamber to take comments regarding HB 4654. Proposed by Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, the bill seeks to remove legal protection from schools, museums, and public libraries for allowing minors access to certain “obscene” material. 

The House Judiciary Committee heard comments from constituents during a public hearing on HB4654 in the House Chamber Wednesday.

Lawmakers heard readings of graphic sexual situations from books found in public libraries from those in support of the legislation, and readings of graphic sexual situations found in the Christian Bible from those opposing its passage. The bill remains under committee consideration. 

Not to be outdone by their colleagues beyond the rotunda, the Senate had a few contentious floor sessions as well. On Tuesday, Sen. Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell railed against the passage of SB 280. Introduced by Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, SB 280 is a bill which would allow the teaching of intelligent design in public school. 

“Intelligent design, now that we’ve learned it is permitted to be taught under this bill, is going to render the bill – in my view – unconstitutional,” Woelfel said from his desk in the Senate Chamber. “What we’re doing is making some legislative history here for when the case goes to court.”

SB 280 passed the Senate by a vote of 31 to 2, and is now under House consideration. 

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee advanced SB 468, also known as the “Baby Olivia Act” Proposed by Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, SB 468 would require eighth and tenth grade public school students to submit to watching a video which teaches that life begins at conception. The “Baby Olivia Act” is currently on second reading in the Senate Chamber. 

In a significantly less controversial move, the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday, advanced legislation designed to smooth out kinks in the adoption process. SB 318, introduced by Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, would mandate that when an adoption involves the termination of the biological parent’s rights under the state’s abuse and neglect law, the matter of those parental rights would be completely resolved by the court before the adoption petition is filed. SB 318 passed the Senate unanimously on Friday, and has been communicated to the House for further consideration.

And lastly, on Friday, the Senate Workforce Committee advanced SB 493. Sponsored by Sen. Laura Chapman, R-Ohio, the bill seeks to permit the use of a prior criminal conviction as a disqualifying factor for the practice of certain professions. SB 493 will now be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A total of 591 bills have been introduced into the Senate thus far, and 1,242 have been introduced into the House of Delegates. The final day for bill-introduction is Tuesday, February 13. RealWV will provide updates throughout the duration of the 2024 Legislative Session. 

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