House looks to advance disease research, Senate takes steps to investigate the death of foster children in busy week four

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “We have an opportunity to continue leading the world – not leading the nation, not leading the state, leading the world – in delivering a groundbreaking treatment, a groundbreaking therapeutic technology that was published two weeks ago in the New England Journal of Medicine, the world’s foremost journal for academic medicine, and deliver that technology to West Virginians who suffer from conditions that deserve our attention.”

That’s what House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, told his fellow House members on Friday, to end week-four of the 2024 Legislative Session. Hanshaw was speaking about HB 5014, a bill he sponsored with the intent of allocating an additional $2 million to the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute to further research in the fields of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, drug addiction, and a host of other diseases. 

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, explains HB 5014 from hos seat in the House Chamber on Friday.

“I cannot think of a better way to spend this $2 million, and to spend it now,” Hanshaw said, moments before the bill was unanimously passed by the House. HB 5014 will now move on to the Senate for further consideration. 

In other House business, the Committee on Jails and Prisons, on Friday, advanced a proposal to increase the wages of West Virginia’s correctional workers. Proposed by Del. Ty Nestor, R-Randolph, HB 4734 would increase the annual salary of current corrections personnel, as well as provide a sign-on bonus for newly-hired employees. After approving a motion to advance the bill to the House Finance Committee, lawmakers heard an update from former Delegate Mike Honaker regarding the status of ongoing inspections performed at the state’s correctional facilities

“I’m going into facilities that are clean, well maintained,” Honaker told his former colleagues. “I have not experienced the first iota of uncooperation or resistance.”

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Political Subdivisions debated a bill which would prevent municipalities from disconnecting water service for the non-payment of sewer fees. Proposed by Del. John Hardy, R-Berkeley, HB 4864 would instead require municipalities to leave service connected, but allow them the ability to impose a lien against the property, creating potential complications for landlords. The bill has been tabled pending further deliberation. And on Monday, House membership returned to its full complement of 100 after Republican David Green’s appointment to the vacant District 36 seat, representing McDowell County. 

In all, 27 bills were passed by the House of Delegates during week-four, bringing the session-total to 50. There have been 1,423 bills introduced to the House thus far in 2024. 

On the other side of the Rotunda, Senators went on the offensive against “rolling coal.” 

Introduced by Sen. Jack David Woodrum, SB 436 seeks to outlaw the potentially hazardous practice of modifying an automobile to emit black smoke while in operation on a public roadway. While seen by many to be a road safety measure, “rolling coal” found an ally in Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Karnes railed against the bill’s passage, calling it an “attack on coal supporters.”

“This is a political statement,” Karnes said, adding that, “To me, this is an attack on people who support our coal industry. There are no other reasons why people roll coal. It’s a statement of support for our coal industry.”

Despite Karnes’ objections, the bill was advanced out of committee, and on to the full Senate, where it was held over on Friday while on third reading. SB 436 will once again be on third reading on Monday. 

On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously passed legislation to create a “critical incident review team.” Proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, SB 474 would assign said team to the authority of the West Virginia Department of Human Services, where it would “oversee and assess circumstances of the ‘death or near death’ of a child in state custody.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, explains SB 474 in the Senate Chamber on Wednesday.

“The composition of the Review Team is diverse, which should add to the quality of its assessment of these tragic events,” Woelfel said of the bill. “Adoption of a formal, ongoing oversight team will move us toward best practices, is overdue and will save lives. It is important we give the newly created DHS and its administration an opportunity to modernize how at-risk youth are served. The prior DHHR was much too unwieldy and, at times, poorly led. I see a renewed commitment by Dr. Cynthia Persily and her team to assure proper care and supervision of our most vulnerable children.” 

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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