Senate power play backs House into corner on Health Department funding bill

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The State Legislature engaged in a heated game of political tug of war Tuesday, using those with developmental disabilities as the rope. 

The catalyst for the animosity was SB 1001 – a bill intended to restore funding to the Departments of Health and Human Services that lawmakers cut during the recent Regular Session. And while the Senate’s amended version – which they passed as part of Sunday evening’s transparency-rule suspension – included an almost $200 million spending account with enhanced legislative oversight and control, the House’s request that $23 million be earmarked for IDD (Individuals with Developmental Disabilities) waivers and childcare was seemingly a bridge too far.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the other side of this building is in utter chaos,” Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, told fellow members in the House Chamber, in reference to their colleagues in the Senate. “But right now the House can be the voice of reason.”

After considerable debate Monday amongst House members, the amended SB 1001 was ultimately adopted. And while the earmarked $23 million was already allocated within the bill as passed by the Senate, the House’s amendment required that the money be used specifically to fund IDD waivers. 

“The House of Delegates made two changes to the bill,” Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, said, while speaking on the Senate floor Monday. “The first was an amendment to add language providing for increased reimbursement rates for certain services. The second change precludes the transfer of any funds from the home and community-based waiver programs to any other appropriation.”

According to Takubo, these proposed changes were not “consistent with the intent of the bill,” which was to restore the funding cut by the Legislature. The Senate swiftly rejected the House amendment and sent the bill back across the hall before adjourning sine die. 

In other words, the Senate said no, and took their ball and went home. This deliberate action forced their colleagues in the House to choose between passing a bill with no additional guaranteed funds-protection for IDD waivers, or cutting hundreds-of-millions in funding to dozens of vital services. 

“I thought the right thing to do last night was to fight,” Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said Monday. “Not for us, for the people that we represent. The most vulnerable people that we represent – people who suffer from intellectual and developmental disabilities, and those who love and care for them. That’s who we’re supposed to be up here fighting for.”

“We should never lose sight of that, and I wish the Senate wouldn’t lose sight of that,” Pushkin continued. “I wish they were more interested in actually doing the job that we were sent here to do, which involves disagreeing with each other and working it out. It involves deliberation, and sometimes it involves conference committees.”

“Instead it seems that they’re more concerned about a leadership struggle going on over there, and a power play,” Pushkin added. “It’s not right and I find it disgusting, but this is where we are. We have no choice but to vote in favor of this. It’s not just the IDD program at this point – it’s the entire funding.”

Pushkin’s sentiment was echoed by Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, who said, “We’re backed into a corner.”

“If you think this wasn’t the plan all along, I don’t know what to tell you,” Young added. “I think this happened exactly as intended. I’m not happy that this is where we are, but I’m absolutely going to vote yes because all the IDD families that I spoke to last night asked us to. But I’m not happy with this, and I hope you’re not happy with this.”

Ultimately, the Senate got their way, as their version of the bill was passed in the House of Delegates by a vote of 87 to two. SB 1001 will now be forwarded to Gov. Jim Justice for his approval. RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of the bill as additional information is made available. 

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