Randy Yohe Published

Improving Schools, Holding Social Media Accountable On House Docket

Man in suit with a red tie and wispy beard standing and speaking in large room
Del. Todd Kirby speaks in favor of HB 5235
Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

From improving schools and learning, to providing guidance on social media and political campaign ads, along with harsher penalties for the sexual assault of a minor the House of Delegates had a wide range of bills on third reading Friday.  

Local school improvement councils are one way the legislature hopes to improve academic performance. 

Senate Bill 172 would revise the requirements of those councils to include teachers, staff, parents and students in grades seven or higher. Council members would be trained in school and community engagement, transparency and more.

The bill passed 93-4 and now goes to the Senate.  

House Bill 4191 is intended to prevent corruption and provide transparency of election-related content on social media websites. 

Key to this bill would be to hold social media platforms, like Facebook or X for example, responsible if found to cause any increase in online visibility or attempt by the social media platform to modify and influence a user’s understanding or opinion regarding any candidate, party, or political party in the State of West Virginia. Enforcement would be through the Secretary of State and Attorney General’s office. 

The bill passed 61-35 and goes to the Senate

House Bill 5235 would double the criminal penalty for anyone found guilty of the sexual assault on a minor. 

Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion, had concerns over unintended consequences of the bill. He recalled from testimony in committee that double penalties could suppress plea agreements and adversely affect juvenile victims having to go to trial.

“If somebody is unwilling to take a plea, and they’re going to roll the dice on the trial, you have to prepare the victim, you have to have the victim testify and have to go through really the trauma, the trauma of that situation all over again,” Garcia said. “And there’s a possibility that they would lose, which can always happen at trial, and that somebody who may have committed an act like this gets off.”  

But Del. Todd Kirby, R-Raleigh, voiced a different perspective. He noted that a large percentage of the cases that are tried in his district involve child sexual abuse.

“And the reason is, the penalties are already extremely high as well, they should be,” Kirby said. “But if we’re going to have the people that are victims of these horrible crimes come forward and express their story and tell their story to a jury, often in an open courtroom, we should allow them to secure a sufficient penalty for the perpetrator. And so I think that I don’t disagree that there may be some instances where this could keep a defendant from pleading guilty. So be it, let him come in and defend himself and let the victim tell the court and the jury exactly what happened. And when that happens, they should be rewarded with a stiff penalty of 40 years, and a doubling of all the other penalties.”

The bill passed 98-0 and also goes to the Senate.