Legislative update, week ending March 12

By Del. Jim Butler - Contributing Columnist

The regular session of the 2016 West Virginia legislative session ended March 12 at midnight. We passed 276 bills and sent them along to the governor for his signature.

Many of these new, soon-to-be laws were passed to help revive an economy devastated by federal regulations on West Virginia’s coal industry. While we all know that coal has not been mined in Mason County for many years, it remains vital to our power plants and our river transportation industry. It is also extremely important to Putnam County that does have a larger manufacturing base, some specific to the mining industry. We are doing all we can to maintain the jobs that remain, while improving our business climate to attract new job creators to get everyone working.

Most of the bills passed this week were more of an administrative nature. One exception that got some headlines would establish a pilot program to drug test “welfare” recipients if there is reasonable suspicion that they are using illegal drugs. If a recipient does test positive, they would be required to complete a drug abuse treatment program and stay off drugs to continue to receive assistance. That was SB 6; I voted yes.

House Bill 4334, in its final form, was legislation to allow advanced nurse practitioners the ability to perform better within their scope of practice by eliminating the need for a collaborative agreement once they have three years of experience working with a doctor.

I am not a doctor or nurse, so I consulted with doctors and nurses in the Legislature and elsewhere to get their thoughts on the bill. When the bill first came to the House, it did not seem to have enough safeguards so I voted no. The bill then went to the Senate, where many of my/our concerns were addressed, so I voted yes on final passage.

Senate Bill 10 also passed both the House and Senate; it would prohibit dismemberment abortions. This is a practice that is too terrible to describe here. I think most of us have heard about it over the last year. There are exceptions to the prohibition if the procedure is necessary to protect the life of the mother. I voted yes.

Senate bill 13 passed; it increases penalties for illegally passing a school bus while children are getting on or off. It also makes it easier to prosecute by clarifying the procedure for enforcement if the license plate number is known but the actual driver is not immediately identified. I voted yes.

House Bill 4013 should help limit excessive testing related to Common Core education standards by prohibiting the use of the SBAC test, which has wasted valuable time in the classroom. I had pushed for and helped pass a more thorough review and improvement of the standards themselves in the House, but the Senate weakened the bill and a compromise bill ended up passing. I voted yes.

Finally among the bills that are now awaiting the governor’s signature is Sarah Nott’s Law. This is named for a young lady who lived in Point Pleasant and was killed in a tragic car crash while trying to pull out of a crowded parking lot. This legislation may help make it safer for everyone as we travel. This has understandably been devastating to Sarah’s family; I commend them for working tirelessly to help pass this bill. I have written about it several times as it passed the House Judicial Committee and the House Floor. It then passed Senate Committees where it was amended before it came back to the House Floor for final passage.

We are now in an extended session for a few days to try to iron out differences in the House and Senate versions of the budget. This is even more difficult than normal because the projected revenue coming in to the state is changing almost daily, largely because of the loss of coal jobs mentioned earlier, and low energy prices around the world. Both greatly reduce income to the state.

We are trying to control the size of state government accounts so taxpayers can keep their hard earned money in theirs. I will write more about this as we work through the process.

Everyone at the Legislature appreciates your prayers as we make difficult decisions in the best interest of the people of West Virginia. It has been a very busy session. I am happy to have helped pass legislation to provide more opportunities for you and your children.


By Del. Jim Butler

Contributing Columnist