Chris Schulz Published

Senate Passes Three Bills Related To Social Services

Sen. Mike Woelfel, wearing a mint green striped tie over a white dress shirt and a navy blue suit jacket and glasses, speaks on the Senate floor Feb. 22, 2023. Two other senators can be seen behind him at their desks.
Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, speaks on the Senate floor Feb. 22, 2023.
Will Price/WV Legislative Photography

The West Virginia Senate passed several bills Wednesday morning to address issues surrounding child protective and social services in the state.

Last week, Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, stood on the floor of the Senate to voice his support of the Foster Care Ombudsman bill, House Bill 3061,  and express concern for the lack of child protective service workers in the Eastern Panhandle.

Just a week later, the Senate passed Senate Bill 273, aimed at better allocating child protective workers based upon county population and average caseload over the past three calendar years. Trump rose again to thank his colleagues for their work on the issue.

“I wanted to take a moment to thank the chairman of Finance and the Finance Committee, and the chairman of Health and the Health Committee for their work on this measure,” Trump said. “This is a bill that is designed to help solve some of the problems we’ve had with DHHR. I think it’s a good effort and I urge passage of the bill.”

Trump also presented Senate Bill 621 to the chamber, which would amend the state code to require sheriffs to serve abuse and neglect petitions and notices of a preliminary hearing, without compensation.

“The sheriff is the officer in the county government that has statutory authority to serve process and papers for the court,” Trump said. “That’s what this bill does, it just makes clear that the sheriff of each county will serve those petitions, without any additional compensation for serving the petitions and the orders.”

Last week, while discussing Senate Bill 621, the Senate Judiciary Committee was told that county sheriffs in Kanawha and Marion counties do not deliver petitions and orders in abuse and neglect cases, often leaving unarmed child protective service workers to deliver the court correspondence instead.

The bill would also require petitions to be delivered by certified mail in the case that they cannot be delivered in person by a sheriff.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, spoke in favor of both Senate Bill 621 and Senate Bill 630, which would create an offense of knowingly and willfully obstructing social service workers or home incarceration supervisors, causing their death. The bill drew comparisons to Senate Bill 490, titled the Patrol Officer Cassie Marie Johnson Memorial Act, which would create a felony offense of knowingly and willfully obstructing an officer and causing their death.

“It’s fairly pathetic that we just finished up Senate Bill 621,” Woelfel said. We had to pass legislation to make a couple of counties’ sheriff’s departments go serve these petitions for child neglect and abuse when the social workers are actually armed with a legal pad or laptop, going into these homes, so we just passed Senate Bill 621, which will make the sheriffs of those two counties go do that.”

Woelfel went on to discuss the murder of social worker Brenda Lee Yeager, who was killed in 2008 while out on a wellness check for an infant.

“Of course in that situation, those people went to prison for murder,” Woelfel said. “But even under the circumstances contemplated by Senate Bill 630, somebody could receive life in prison through the accidental death caused by their obstruction.”

All three bills passed the Senate unanimously, and now head to the House of Delegates for its consideration.