On this West Virginia Morning, Civil War historians are recognizing a unique local celebration that happened during the conflict in the wilds of southern West Virginia, when 20 Jewish Union soldiers came together during the conflict for a Passover feast known as a Seder.
It was a busy day for the Senate as they passed a dozen bills, ranging from issues of schools to health care and substance use.
First up was Senate Bill 51, which would require an impact statement in certain instances of a school closing or consolidation. School closure and consolidation have been pervasive in the state as the population continues to decline. According to the 2020 Census, West Virginia lost 3.2 percent of its population since 2010.
Senate Bill 258, which would eliminate a $10,000 cap on rent-to-own agreements in the state, was the only bill that did not pass unanimously.
“Currently in the law, it says that there cannot be a rent-to-own contract related to consumer goods which has a cash value, fair market value of more than $10,000. This bill, if it passes, will remove that cap completely,” said Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan. “Consumers and rent to own businesses will be free to enter into whatever contract they like regardless of the amount of value consumer goods which is the subject of the contract.”
Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, and Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, both voted against the bill but did not provide comment on the floor.
Senate Bill 282 creates the West Virginia Guardian Program. The program would allow county boards of education to contract with honorably discharged law enforcement officers to provide public safety and/or security on public school grounds and buildings.
With all the federal money coming into the state, Senate Bill 439 aims to help one state department complete its projects more easily.
“This is a pretty uncomplicated, easy bill. All it does is streamline the process for the DEP to bid and award contracts.” said Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker. “With all the federal money coming in, they’re afraid they’re not gonna get all the bids out for mine reclamation and some other projects. The Department of Highways is already doing this and it’s working well for them.”
The Senate also passed:
Senate Bill 248, clarifying when excess funds accumulated by boards are to be transferred to General Revenue Fund
Senate Bill 270, adding exemption to permit requirement for cremation for research for institution arranging the final disposition of a decedent who donated his or her body to science
Senate Bill 271, modifying approval process requirements for First Responders Honor Board
Senate Bill 283, updating the language of the Military Incentive Program, which provides a tax credit to employers in the state for hiring certain members of a class of veterans, to include all veterans
One Senator, Four Bills
One-third of the bills in front of the Senate on third reading Monday were sponsored by Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood. He said the bill’s aim was to address a chronic issue in the state.
“Three of the four bills that were on third reading today, deal with the homeless/drug crisis that is especially affecting two or three counties, that being Wood County, Cabell County, maybe you can say Kanawha County, maybe one or two others,” Azinger said.
“In Wood County we have four percent of the population and 25 percent of the beds, and we could potentially have double that if Ohio Valley College is purchased by these folks that have these drug rehab places. These bills are trying to constrict. The issues that we have in Wood County with homeless camps, with crime, as you can imagine, break ins and burglary, it’s just off the charts.”
Senate Bill 239 would require the Commissioner of the Bureau for Behavioral Health to engage community stakeholders in a study of homeless demographic information throughout West Virginia, due by July 1, 2024. Azinger said better understanding the state’s unhoused population is important to ensure the best use of the state’s resources.
“The study is basically just to know where the homeless folks are in West Virginia, why they are migrating from one part of the state to the other and how many of these homeless people are from out of state,” he said.
“We’re getting tons of out-of-state people that come to West Virginia, to the drug rehab places, because we have a lot of beds in one county, Cabell, but also, because we have benefits. We give away, you know, all kinds of freebies, and the word gets out on the street, cross-country, ‘Hey go to West Virginia.’ And that’s what’s happening. We want to truncate that, staunch the bleeding, put a stop to it, and make it reasonable. We’re not kicking anybody out of beds, we don’t want to do that, we want people that want help to get help.”
Senate Bill 243 would require the institutions giving people that help with substance use issues to also provide transportation after treatment has ended. The mandate for transportation is broad-reaching, as the bill requires, “a means of transportation back to the individual’s state of birth, a state in which they have previously lived, or a state where they have a family support structure” be provided. Azinger said there is no funding for the requirement by design.
“Just send these folks back to where they have family, to a state that they’re from, or someplace where they have connections and relationships and a history there,” he said. “We’re just making the drug rehab places have some skin in the game. Let them pay the price back for the bus ticket. Parkersburg paid $24,000 in bus tickets last year. So that’s $24,000 that, in my opinion, the City of Parkersburg shouldn’t have to pay.”
He also stated that the requirement serves two purposes: getting those individuals fresh out of substance use treatment back to their support system, and out of West Virginia.
Azinger also sponsored Senate Bill 241, which shifts the responsibility of investigating and enforcing of, the Patient Brokering Act, as well as Senate Bill 251, which requires the display of the official U.S. motto, “In God We Trust” in all state schools.
“Our country was built on God,” Azinger said. “Our America was birthed by the Great Awakening, religious revivals in the early 1700s was the impetus, was a birthright of the American Revolution. That’s always how we have operated. So why did we take it out? What’s happened since we’ve taken it out? Well, a lot of bad things have happened since we’ve taken it out, so let’s start bringing God back into the schools.”
Completed Legislative Action
Two more bills passed through the legislative process and are now on their way to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature.
Senate Bill 143 is titled Relating to Adopt-A-Stream Program. The bill would establish an Adopt-a-Stream program to promote the cleaning of the state’s waterways, similar to the Adopt-a-Highway program.
Senate Bill 231 transfers administration of West Virginia Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Matching Funds Program to Department of Economic Development.
Both bills originated in the Senate but were amended by the House and returned to the Senate for final approval.