From the House to Your Home: Last week of the legislative session

The Legislature is on track to again adopt a budget during the regular legislative session and spare the additional cost to the public of an extended budget session previous Legislatures had relied on and come to accept as necessary to complete the task. Both Senate Bill 250 and House Bill 4023, budget bills, were read for the first time March 5. The bills will be in the floor amendment stage Monday, March 7.

 Three education bills overwhelmingly passed the full House this week with proposals that would provide a number of various advantages to teachers throughout the state.

 House Bill 4844, which would ensure teachers could not be forced to give up their planning or lunch periods to substitute teach or perform other duties, unanimously passed the House March 2. The bill also would increase the number of personal leave days a county board of education employee could use without regard to the reason for the absence as well as outlines the framework for those days to be used consecutively. In the future, I would like all benefit time to be labeled personal time off (PTO) instead of differentiated into sick and personal days.

 House Bill 4467, which overwhelmingly passed the House March 2, would establish a project model to provide early childhood classroom assistant teachers in first-grade classrooms with more than 12 students. The proposal to increase the number of assistant teachers is one House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay and myself, began advocating for well before the session. While the bill that passed the House this week takes just a small bite at that apple, I’m hopeful we see the benefits of targeting our educational investments toward the younger grade levels to ensure our efforts at the higher grades aren’t in vain,” Hanshaw said. “We cannot throw dollars at the high school level and think it’s going to make a difference if the foundation for learning isn’t set. “Data shows us if our students are not achieving grade-level reading ability by the third grade, they have a single-digit percentage chance of ever catching up.” My hope was for all 1st grade classrooms to receive an assistant, but the Finance committee felt the $30 million fiscal note was too high so they set it up to do 300 classrooms across the state. It is a good starting point and we will evaluate its effectiveness to determine if it is increases literacy.

 House Bill 4845 would establish the Katherine Johnson Academy as a magnet school program at colleges and universities in the state. The text of the bill makes clear the program is “in recognition of one of West Virginia’s most outstanding and distinguished citizens whose contributions as a pioneer in the advancement of science, mathematics and space travel have been recognized through numerous honors, including the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.” The academy would be authorized to establish both residential and commuter-based programs, and the programs would allow students to receive dual credits for high school and college courses. Under the proposed legislation, any student accepted and admitted into any academy program would be awarded a PROMISE scholarship, and if further funding were to be necessary, those additional expenses either would be waived by the institution or funded by other private scholarships. The bill unanimously passed the full House March 2.

 House Bill 4020, which proposes dividing the state’s current Department of Health and Human Resources into two departments, passed the full House March 2 by a bipartisan vote of 83-11. This provides one department focus on needed services and the other department focus would be more regulatory. DHHR currently one cabinet secretary overseeing a $7.6 billion budget, which makes up 39% of the state’s spending. Under HB4020, a stand-alone Department of Health would include the bureaus of Public Health, Health Facilities, Inspector General, the Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification as well as the state Health Care Authority; a separate Department of Human Resources then would include the bureaus of Social Services, Medical Services, Child Support Enforcement, Family Assistance and Behavioral Health, which includes the state Office of Drug Control Policy as well as the Office of Maternal Child and Family Health. Two secretaries of the new agencies would be in office by January 2023, if the bill becomes law. This agency is too massive for one Secretary. The opioid and foster care crisis in our state deserve more focused attention as well as all of the other entities.  

 As of March 5, a total of 44 bills had completed legislation. The regular legislative session ends at midnight March 12.

 Delegate Amy Summers ([email protected]. 304-340-3220 office, 304-641-1159 cell, 98 Meadland Rd., Flemington, WV 26347)


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