CHARLESTON – The House of Delegates adjourned the 2013 regular session at midnight, having reached agreement with the Senate on legislation to reform the state’s educational system, maintain public safety, address prison overcrowding, and tackle childhood hunger, among many other issues.
“While lawmakers dealt with a few initiatives that gained a great deal of attention – the education and prison overcrowding bills being the biggest – we also worked steadily and successfully on a wide range of lower profile, but truly meaningful pieces of legislation,” Speaker Rick Thompson said.
In the final days of the session, the two chambers reached a compromise on Governor Tomblin’s bill to ease the state’s prison overcrowding problem, Senate Bill 371.
“This bill is focused on the critical issue: recidivism,” Speaker Thompson said. “By emphasizing substance abuse treatment for prisoners and post-release supervision, I think we will achieve results.”
By reducing recidivism and stopping prison growth rates, it is estimated the state could save $18 million next year.
“The Governor and lawmakers agreed that building another prison is not the best solution,” Thompson said. “I believe this legislation gets the heart of our state’s overcrowding crisis, substance abuse, but also ensures we maintain public safety.”
The Legislature passed several additional bills regarding public safety.
“We adopted legislation to expand the Amber Alert, make seatbelts a primary offense, prevent sexting by minors, utilize wireless communications to find missing persons, ensure the safety of marinas, and provide bullet-proof vests to officers” the Speaker noted.
Three of those bills were dedicated to young people whose tragic deaths inspired the measures.
House Bill 2453, known as Skylar’s Law, expands the criteria for Amber Alert to include children who are missing and believed to be in danger, rather than only children believed to be abducted.
House Bill 2046, known as the Kelsey Smith Act, requires wireless telecommunications companies to release location information of a missing person's cell phone in a timely manner.
And House Bill 3020, known as the Michael Cunningham Act, adds new provisions to the code related to boat dock and marina safety to prevent electric shock. Speaker Thompson said he is very proud that the House overwhelmingly supported Senate Bill 663, the Feed to Achieve Act.
“There is nothing more fundamental than providing our children with nutritious food,” he said. “Enacting this program is simply the right thing to do.”
Earlier in the session, the Legislature adopted Senate Bill 359, the massive education bill that is the result of Governor Tomblin’s initiative and a great deal of collaboration among legislators, educators and a host of stakeholders.
The bill focuses on reading at grade level for all students by the 3rd grade, streamlines professional development system, provides flexibility for a school calendar that achieves 180 actual instructional days, focuses on qualifications for filling professional positions and provides principal and faculty input on filling teaching positions at a school.
“The bill is a tremendous step forward,” the Speaker said.
In the last few hours of the session, the House and Senate also adopted Senate Bill 435, which continues the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program, allowing 16 more cities join the original four and retaining most of the other elements of the bill, including provisions prohibiting municipalities from having ordinance restricting firearm ownership.
“I am pleased that the home rule program will not only be continued, but expanded,” Speaker Thompson said.
Among other bills of note that were adopted are:
* House Bill 3013 authorizes the Senate President and House Speaker to appoint job creation workgroups that could work independently or in cooperation with the Department of Commerce, the West Virginia Development Office, or other executive office or agency of the state, to obtain information to assist the Legislature’s efforts to take effective action to increase and attract jobs in West Virginia.
“These legislative work groups will focus on specifically what the Legislature can do – in cooperation with other interested businesses and state agencies – to bring more jobs to West Virginia,” Thompson said.
* Three bills to help our state veterans succeed academically and professionally.
HB2490 requires the state institutions of higher education to appoint veterans' advocates; HB2491 requires the establishment of a uniform course completion policy for all public colleges to implement for certain veteran students; and HB2361 includes persons who served honorably or who were discharged because of service connected disabilities in the National Guard and Reserves as eligible veterans for preference in employment training and employment.
* To improve coal safety, the Legislature enacted HB3043 to expand the state's Innovative Mine Safety Technology Tax Credit will be expanded to include methane monitors.
* There were more bills geared toward local schools.
HB3157 is intended to restore flexibility and authority for local schools with county school systems. It calls for the state board to provide the education oversight commission with a report for how this can be accomplished while increasing student achievement, along with any recommended changes in law that need to happen in order to reach this goal, by Nov. 1.
SB80 requires certain central office administrators and supervisors to substitute teach on at least three instructional days each school year. Superintendents and those who have never held a valid teaching certificate or administrative certificate are exempt from the requirement.