This Week in the House of Delegates

(Editor’s note: This piece provided by the West Virginia House of Delegates Communications Director Ann Ali on behalf of the House, reviewing activities for the week ending Feb. 26.)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates spent a great deal of time this week in committee meetings debating proposals, and regular legislative session is now more than one-fourth complete, and a total of 25 House bills have passed the House out of 787 House bills introduced. Two more bills completed legislative action this week as well.

The Senate passed House Bill 2019, which would elevate the West Virginia Economic Development Office and Tourism Department to cabinet-level offices, and Feb. 26 the House approved Senate Bill 14, which would provide additional options for alternative teacher certification. Both measures now go to Gov. Jim Justice for action.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, announced Thursday a virtual public hearing for House Bill 2389, which would allow the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to set certain water quality standards.

Public hearings have never been provided by the West Virginia Senate, but House Rule 84 was amended this year to allow House Committee chairmen the discretion to grant or deny public hearings based on their committee resources, and any public hearings that take place this year must take place virtually.

“We want to make sure everyone knows they have access to us and to the actions here in Charleston,” Capito said. “That’s why we’ll be hosting the first virtual public hearing, and we’re excited to do so. This is of course new, so we hope everyone will be patient with us as we Zoom together from our committee room on Monday, and we’re looking forward to the participation.”

House Bill 2002, which aims to remove any remaining regulatory hurdles to installing fiber for broadband access, will be reported out of committee to the full House of Delegates next week.

Members of the Senate continue to debate the House’s bills on charter schools and licensing reform.

The full House passed House Joint Resolution 1, which would allow the public to approve a constitutional amendment that would bring the West Virginia Board of Education in line with every other state agency in requiring the state Legislature review, approve, amend or reject any BOE rules. This move to add a layer of accountability to the Board of Education, which is made up by individuals appointed by the Governor, received overwhelming and bipartisan support this week. It now goes to the Senate for debate.

“What this does is it simply allows the voters to decide whether or not their elected officials in the legislature should be able to approve or disapprove rules from the board of education,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha. “For every other state agency, the Legislature in West Virginia we can approve and disapprove of rules. This would extend that to the board of education.”

Delegates also voted unanimously this week to expand West Virginia’s two restorative justice programs for juveniles through House Bill 2094, which has been sent to the Senate for its consideration. The measure would allow any juvenile facing any charge to participate in a one-time program that includes a mediator who facilitates a voluntarily meeting between the victims and the juveniles who have been accused of crimes, and the group creates a process for restitution which can lead to the juvenile’s criminal charges being dismissed.

“There’s no way to be tougher on crime than preventing it in the first place,” said Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, and lead sponsor of the bill.

Another change to this year’s legislative session due to COVID precautions has been an amendment to House Rule 65 which outlines a scheduled time for limited remarks by members to be made and video streamed to limit the amount of time the full body and staff are together in an enclosed area. Five members made remarks Feb. 24: Delegates Daniel Linville, R-Cabell; Mick Bates, D-Raleigh; John Doyle, D-Jefferson; Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas; and Joey Garcia, D-Marion.