Senate tries their hand at preventing smoking in cars with minors, correcting elementary school behavioral problems

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Despite a verbal celebration of the Senate’s efforts to advance legislation that would prevent smoking in vehicles transporting children 16-years-of-age and younger, those efforts were not universally supported by members. 

While speaking in favor of the bill – SB 378, sponsored by Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha – as well as praising his colleagues in the Senate, Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, criticized his counterparts down the hall, saying, “While the country watches the House of Delegates as they try to divide West Virginians on cultural issues that don’t elevate the lives of our children, nor our citizens – they simply polarize and separate us from one another – we have a bill here that’s important.”

“It’s going to help children,” Woelfel continued. “It’s going to send a message that in West Virginia we do care about our children, not just through lip service, but by protecting them when they’re the most vulnerable – when they’re in a car with their parents.”

Immediately following Woelfel’s endorsement of the bill, Sen. Michael Azinger, R-Wood, rose in opposition. 

“This bill comes up every year, and I oppose it every year,” Azinger said. “The arguments for the bill are essentially emotional arguments. My argument against the bill would be that this is a cut at the fundamental rights of parents – parents making decisions over their children in their vehicle.”

“This is the state going where it has no business going,” Azinger added.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 25 to eight. Azinger, as well as seven other Republicans, voted against its passage. 

Senators did however appear to unite behind SB 614, the proposal from Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, which seeks to grant kindergarten through sixth grade teachers the authority to have students who are “violent, threatening, or intimidating” removed from the classroom. 

Under the bill, any student who “creates an unsafe learning environment or impedes other students’  ability to learn in a safe environment,” would be placed in a behavioral-intervention program. County schools would be permitted to utilize a program of their own devising, or partner with another county. If neither option is available, the student would then be required to follow the steps outlined within the bill, including the immediate removal from the “presence of other students for the remainder of the school day,” and parents would be notified to pick up the child, as he or she would be prohibited from riding the school bus.

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, questioned Grady about potential transportation issues the bill may inadvertently create before pledging his support. In similar fashion, Woelful grilled the bill’s sponsor about the cost of implementing the bill – going so far as to deem it an “unfunded mandate” – before pledging his. Although Woelfel required Grady’s support for future legislation to fund the state mandated behavioral-intervention in return.

Sen. Robert Plymale, the body’s only other Democrat, spoke in support as well, noting, “I do think that this is a good tool.”

To close discussion on the bill, Grady said, “I worked a long time on this bill trying to make it perfect.”

“I realize it is never going to be perfect because we have different types of kids that we need to look at,” Grady continued. “But our number one thing is that we’ve always focused on telling teachers that we’re listening, and I wanted to prove that.”

“Teachers are burnt out because they have to deal with behaviors that you wouldn’t be expected to deal with in other professions,” Grady noted. “We couldn’t sit here and name a profession that you would be expected to be okay with having things thrown at you, spit on, hit, punched, kicked, bitten, and it just be okay. But teachers have to do that every day.”

“We focus so much of our resources and so many things on that one student that has these kinds of behaviors, and we’re ignoring the other 19 in the classroom,” Grady added. “What about their safe place?”

The Senate passed SB 614 by a vote of 32 to one, with only Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan voting against passage. The bill will now be reported to the House of Delegates for further consideration. 

RealWV will provide continual updates throughout the duration of the 2024 Legislative Session. 

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