As we enter the last two weeks of this legislative session, both chambers are pushing though large quantities of bills before time runs out. And Monday in the House, fourteen bills were passed. Of those, lawmakers approved a piece of legislation that attempts to tackle the issue of truancy in West Virginia schools. It would extend the number of unexcused absences a student can have before the court system intervenes. But first, here are two other bills Delegates approved Monday.
House Bill 2395, or the Storm Scammer Consumer Protection Act, provides consumers with the right to cancel residential roofing contracts where the contract is expected to be paid from a property and casualty insurance policy. Delegate John Shott of Mercer County and the Judiciary Chair, further explained the bill.
“The problem this bill seeks to address is that following a significant storm, some disreputable roofing contractors, mostly from out of state will approach a homeowner and tell them that if they sign their contract, the contractor will work with the home insurance carrier to pay for the homeowner’s roof repairs or replacement, however,” Shott noted, “if the insurance company does not approve the claim or will not cover the entire cost, the homeowner is contractually responsible to pay for the repairs. This bill prohibits a contractor from requiring advance payments on a contract made prior to the determination of insurance company, until after the five day right to cancel has expired.”
House Bill 2395 passed 93 to 4.
Another bill that passed was House Bill 2485, which relates to the West Virginia Future Fund. This fund started in the 2014 Legislative Session by then Senate President, Jeff Kessler along with other Democrats. The Future Fund was meant to set aside revenue from the natural gas boom so that the state would have a savings account with plenty of money in it after the boom was over. But Republicans had some major problems with it. House Bill 2485 seeks to amend the West Virginia Future Fund by prohibiting deposits into it during years when certain state retirement systems are not funded to 90% or more of their actuarial accrued liabilities.
Delegate Michael Folk of Berkeley County was the lead sponsor of the bill.
“You know, last year, I proposed a similar amendment to the Future Fund bill when it came before us,” Folk explained, “and I believe all you have to do is simply look at the unfunded liabilities. For teachers’ retirement, currently 3.4 billion dollars underfunded. For public employees; over a billion dollars. You just take the two biggest ones right there, and you’re almost 4 in a half billion dollars. I think we should fund our current commitments before we make contributions to what they call the future fund.”
House Bill 2485 passed 76 to 21.
Currently at public schools in West Virginia, a student has up to five days of unexcused absences before a parent or guardian is called and action is taken up before a magistrate. House Bill 2550 seeks to increase that amount from five to ten before this type of complaint would need to be made.
Delegate Linda Phillips of Wyoming County is a retired elementary school teacher, and she opposed the bill because she felt like the extension was only going to encourage more absences from students.
“Good parents might be called in for a conference, because your child has missed five days, and you wrote a parent note, but I think that, in education, that’s not who we’re trying to get, those are not the children we’re trying to get in school,” Phillips noted, “we’re trying to get in school those students whose parents don’t care whether they come to school or not, or they don’t send them, and they don’t care what the excuse is. I think that, I’m going to vote against this, because I think that we’re trying to get our students in school, and I think that this might not be the way we need to go about it.”
Delegate Stephen Skinner of Jefferson County supported the bill, because he says the extension will give students in unfortunate situations a chance to get back in school before their record would be blemished by the juvenile justice system.
“This is very important piece to being thoughtful about how we deal with kids who sometimes the reason why they aren’t making it to school is because they live at the end of a dirt road, and they can’t make it to the school bus in bad weather, or the parents’ transportation isn’t working, or the parents have a drug problem, or there’s domestic violence, and the focus of that household isn’t about getting the kid to school,” Skinner said, “So we set them up for being referred into the juvenile justice system, not because they’re bad kids, but because of circumstances in their life. We still have the law, we still are gonna have truant kids, this just gives an extra five days, and I think that one of things that we’re gonna see, when those numbers exploded after we changed the law to five days, we’re going to see those numbers go down.”
Delegate Daryl Cowles of Morgan County and the Majority Leader agreed with Skinner.
“I agree with everything my friend from the 67th just said. He even said, used the term exploded. Exploded is what did happen to status offenses that the state of West Virginia would use to move kids out of the home or punish kids when they missed too many days of school,” Cowles said, “The bill before you, and that was a result of us overreaching by lowering the days, unexcused days from ten down to five. Whenever you have a young person that’s struggling, real world, real life young person struggling, we can go one of two ways; we can punish or we can help. I think this is an effort to help before we punish.”
House Bill 2550 passed 95 to 2.