back pew baldwin

BACK PEW–Halftime at the capitol 

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

It’s halftime at the capitol. The legislative session hit the 30-day mark on Friday, leaving legislators with another month to complete their work. 

While the headlines are filled with cultural controversies, most of those bills will have little impact on the lives of most West Virginians. In this week’s column, we’ll focus on a few policies that could impact people’s everyday lives which don’t make the headlines. 

NEUROSCIENCE. West Virginia University has been featured on national news programs for their cutting-edge research in neuroscience. The House voted this week to allocate $2 million to the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute for further research in the fields of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and drug addiction. This is a great example of how the legislature can and should work. They are giving extra funding to an existing organization doing proven work for the good of the world. I trust the Senate will agree to the House proposal. 

CHILD CARE. One of the biggest barriers to employment and to employers locating in West Virginia is a lack of child care. That may surprise you, but I heard it firsthand from citizens and businesses alike for years. So I’m thrilled the House is working on several bills to combat our child care deserts. Thus far, they’ve proposed several tax credits for those who provide child care. I’m glad to see a real issue making an agenda with bipartisan support. That being said, simple tax credits aren’t going to result in overcoming child care deserts, especially in rural areas. It is a start, and I’ll take hope in that. 

CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE. Talk to most any teacher, and they will tell you that classroom discipline is a major problem. They sometimes deal with violent and aggressive behavior from their own students, which affect the entire classroom. In response, the legislature wants to establish a new procedure for removing children from the classroom (with a lower threshold for removal than currently exists). Check out SB614 for the details. 

Best case scenario–classrooms will be safer while kids with discipline issues will get the unique, one-on-one nurturing they need. Worst case scenario–kids with real needs will be suspended and not get the help they need. It will largely depend on how individual counties enact the law. 

As a former Board of Education member who tried to utilize every alternative discipline method imaginable to meet the needs of every individual student, I hope our legislators will take the next step and fund alternative schools across the state to meet the unique needs of unique children. 

CHILD SERVICES. Child wellbeing indicators such as child poverty, childhood trauma incidents, and foster care participation rates all remain at critical levels in West Virginia, as they’ve been for far too long. After several legislative sessions without bills focused on improving child services, I’m encouraged to see a few this year that have at least some momentum. SB474 creates a critical incident review team any time a child dies in state custody. It does happen, and we need to understand why so we can keep it from happening again if at all possible. HB4595 is related and would provide legislative oversight to certain child welfare cases. As someone who was forced to fight with DHHR for two years to get basic information about a case where children died, even after they were reported to the CPS hotline, any additional oversight in the process is a positive step. We need far more, but I’ll take a baby step of a ray of sunshine on the process. 

Stay tuned to RealWV for updates each day from the capitol. We do our best to keep you informed. Every team makes halftime adjustments, and it will be very interesting to see what the House and Senate do in the next 30 days as elections loom and bills linger. 

That’s the view from the back pew. May God bless each and every one of you! 

Stephen Baldwin is a Presbyterian minister and the former Senate Minority Leader from Greenbrier County. He is the publisher of The Real WV.

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