WV lawmakers wrap up regular session
CHARLESTON — It was a mild final day of the West Virginia Legislature on Saturday, with both chambers working to complete legislation through compromise.
The regular session ended at midnight, and at 12:01 a.m. the Legislature was expected to convene into a special session called for by Gov. Jim Justice to further discuss education issues following the failure of the Senate education omnibus bill.
Despite some hiccups, the Legislature was still able to pass significant legislation. Here’s a roundup of some of those pieces of legislation the Legislature worked on in the final days of the regular session:
Foster care reform
The House on Friday accepted the Senate’s changes to House Bill 2010, the comprehensive child welfare reform bill, sending the bill to the desk of the governor. The bill was debated and massaged throughout the entire session, with some lawmakers calling it the most significant legislation of the session.
The bill addresses several aspects of child welfare, with two controversial provisions including a transition to a managed care organization for service coordination and a no eject/no reject clause for congregate care centers. It also updates rules relating to foster homes, hoping to ease the burden on families, and ensures parents participating in medication-assisted treatment isn’t grounds for termination of parental rights.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, said she was proud to have been a part of the process of getting the bill passed.
“I’ve said numerous times throughout the session that this is one of the biggest issues facing
our state, and to know that we as a body were able to take that first step in really solving this debilitating problem is so exciting for the future of West Virginia and to ensure the most vulnerable Mountaineers have what they need and deserve to take care of them,” she said.
She called the bill foster reform 1.0 and will be working during interims on foster reform 2.0.
“I have spoken with counsel and members of both the Republican and Democratic party on ways that we can continue moving forward with this,” Kessinger said.
Concerns still exist over the bill, however.
Marissa Sanders, representing the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents Network, said she still has concerns with the transition to managed care, especially the speed at which it is happening.
“Other states have taken several years to move to managed care, and I was told by experts in the field that we needed a minimum of a year between awarding the contract and transitioning to managed care,” she said.
“That said, I am pleased with the foster parent advisory group that was added in the House and strengthened in the Senate. I hope this will be a vehicle for addressing concerns on a regular basis. I think the ombudsman is an excellent addition to the bill and look forward to working with their office to advocate for foster parents and children in foster care.”
The bill awaits a decision from the governor, though it is anticipated he will sign it.
One of the top priorities for the Democratic minority this session was addressing issues prohibiting the medical marijuana program from beginning, which it was supposed to do July 1 this year.
The first bill passed was a banking fix for the program. House Bill 2538 allows the state to bid out banking contracts to institutions like credit unions to allow them to process the medical marijuana funds.
The second bill was completed Saturday night after Del. Tom Fast, R-Fayette, performed a short “filibuster.” Fast said he wanted the Legislature to take a closer look at what he called a vague bill.
House Bill 2079 makes tweaks to the Medical Cannabis Act of 2017 at the behest of the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board, permitting vertical integration — allowing one company to be both a processor and a grower, for example. It also increases the number of permitted growers, dispensaries and processors.
Substance abuse legislation
The Legislature passed several bills this session relating to substance use disorder, including a bill that makes clarifications to the Opioid Use Reduction Act of 2018.
″(These) bills are really going to make a difference in our substance abuse problem,” said Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell. “We are in no way where we need to be, but we are starting to make some headway.”
On Friday, the House concurred with the Senate and passed House Bill 3132, which exempts physicians with less than 30 patients from registration requirements to prescribe medication-assisted treatment. The goal, Rohrbach said, is to have more locally based treatment and take away some of the stigma of receiving substance use disorder treatment.
Similarly, the Legislature passed House Bill 2531, which allows advance practice nurses, APRNS, with the proper training to conduct MAT counseling. This again is an effort to expand access to treatment.
The Legislature also passed a bill to continue the adult drug court fund and permit the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to create a family drug treatment court pilot program. The pilot program will be in four circuits and will serve adults who have been found to be neglectful parents, but not to a level the children need to be removed from the home. The bill is expected to pass.
A bill to require probationers found to be at risk of substance use disorder get treatment of some sort for 30 days and a bill to continue the now depleted Ryan Brown Addiction Prevention and Recovery Fund did not make it through Senate committees.
One of the first bills to pass the House was the Broadband Expansion Act of 2019, which aimed to prepare the state for 5G technology. That bill did not make it through the Senate, which instead sent along its version of the bill, Senate Bill 3, which passed the House last week.
The bill establishes the regulatory authority for the installation, operations, marketing, modifications, maintenance or replacement of utility poles. It also establishes fees for small cell deployment by wireless providers, which are attached to the poles.
Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, sponsor of the House version, said it was great policy and something to be proud of.
Ritter Park crash legislation
Legislation inspired by a car crash last summer near the Ritter Park playground in Huntington died in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would have made it a misdemeanor crime to place a non-passenger at risk of injury while driving under the influence.