We know that there is a continuous streams of news and information about the most controversial and contentious issues discussed at the Legislature each week. We hope the Legislative Hubbub can continue to serve as a source of the news that you don’t hear highlighted through news, blogs and talk shows.
Keeping our spotlight on issues that are critically important to community development, we are going to focus this week on reviewing the children and family policy proposals that are being advocated for by the Our Children, Our Future Campaign.
This statewide campaign aims to improve West Virginia families and communities through ending poverty and creating improved communities for all children across the state. What are the issues that they have prioritized for the 2015 session? How are they faring in the new Legislature? Read on to find out the Hubbub on childrens and families policies.
The Our Children, Our Future Campaign to End Child Poverty: Updates on Progress of Platform Bills
Each year, the statewide Our Children, Our Future Campaign selects 10 policy proposals that serve as its platform. This platform is made up of issues that the Campaign believes would improve the quality of lives for West Virginia children and families. These policies often cover a broad variety of areas, including childrens health, economic development and local food and physical activity.
Last year, the Campaign was successful in passing #7 of the 10 policies on its 2014 platform. But those victories were not without a hard fight. This year the platform includes issues relating to funding for child advocacy programs, clean water, preventing child sexual abuse and increasing the tobacco tax to improve public health. These are just a few of the top 10 issues.
At this halfway point in the session, a number of the platform issues are moving forward, though many have not yet moved out of committee. Read below to see which bills are steaming forward, which have run into roadblocks, and which have not yet gotten off the ground.
Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
Platform Issue #9 is Erin Merryn’s Law (HB 2527). This bill would create a State Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children. The purpose of the task force, which would be made up of a combination of legislators, educators, children’s advocates (including social workers, attorneys and child advocacy organizations) and citizens, is to make a series of recommendations on how to reduce the incidences of child sexual abuse in West Virginia.
Sponsored by Delegate Amanda Pasdon (Monongalia Co.), the bill was passed out of the House Education Committee and sent to the floor for a vote. The bill passed out of the House on February 18 by a unanimous vote of 99-0 (one delegate was not present). It now goes to the Senate for passage on that side.
Juvenile Justice Reform
Platform Issue #3 is Juvenile Justice Reform (SB 393; HB 2641). Companion bills on this issue were introduced in the House and Senate at the request of the Governor during the first week of February. As he mentioned in his State of the State, juvenile justice reform is one of Governor Tomblin’s priorities for this legislative session.
While the reform bill covers a number of areas relating to juvenile justice, the primary concern of the Our Children, Our Future Campaign on this issue is amending current truancy law to reduce the number of children who are sent to juvenile court as a result of missing school. The Campaign is advocating for an increase in the number of missed school days that triggers truancy from five to ten days. The current Governor’s bill does not contain language addressing this issue.
Bills introduced by Senator Chris Walters (Putnam Co.) and Delegate Daryl Cowles (Morgan Co.) would increase permitted absences (SB 256 and HB 2550). The Campaign is advocating for the Governor to amend the current Juvenile Justice Reform bills to include language from SB 256 and HB 2550.
On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from Pew Charitable Trust, the national policy organization hired by the state to facilitate the process of crafting a juvenile justice reform bill. The organization did not include in their list of recommendations an increase in the number of truancy days because they found in their statewide survey of that issue a lack of consensus among stakeholders. Legislators were well aware of this as a major concern raised by the public and invited a speaker from the audience to present on the issue of truancy. Cassie Burdyshaw with the WV American Civil Liberties Union spoke in favor of a tiered system to address truancy, limiting instances of sending children to the court system for missed school days.
The committee did not take up action on the bill and was advised by counsel to wait until another bill (HB 2200, revising the child welfare code) has been passed into law later this week before moving forward with SB 393. If you are especially interested in this bill, you should contact the ACLU of West Virginia for more information.
Three issues on the Our Children, Our Future Campaign platform are currently waiting to be taken up by committee and have not progressed beyond introduction.
Platform Issue #6 is “Past Due, It’s time to Choose: WV’s Kids or Big Tobacco?” A bill to increase the Tobacco Tax (SB 98 and HB 2634) was introduced during the first day of session in the Senate. This bill would increase the current tax on tobacco products from 55 cents to $#1.55 Public health advocates are championing the bill as a mechanism to reduce smoking and raise state revenue.
While Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall (Putnam Co.) has indicated a willingness to consider the bill, it has not yet been taken up in the finance committee on either side. Both committee chairman (Hall and Eric Nelson, Kanawha Co.) have suggested that they might consider a tobacco tax increase as part of a tax reform package they will be introducing next year. As such, there is a possibility that this bill may not gain enough traction to get passed by the legislature this year.
Drinking Water Protections
Platform Issue #4 is a comprehensive proposal to protect drinking water bills, including resisting efforts to roll back current protections on drinking water sources. Two proposals currently moving through the Legislature have taken priority for this issue.
One is a bill to reclassify the Kanawha River as a Category A water supply. This would classify a section of the river as a drinking water supply source, increasing public health protections and opening up opportunity for Charleston to access the river as a water supply intake. The reclassification would apply to 72 miles of the Kanawha River, from the Belle area to the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers.
WV Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman has spoken up in support of the Category A bills, SB 167 and HB 2289. Additionally, West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre has publicly said that it would cost $100 million more to place a second water intake on the river north of Charleston if reclassification of the Kanawha River does not occur.
Industry advocates are opposing the reclassification and are attempting to remove Category A classification for an additional 31,000 miles of waterways in the state. This could occur through an amendment to SB 167 or HB 2289. Currently HB 2289 is moving. It has passed out of the House Industry & Labor Committee and the House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on the bill on Monday, Feb. 16. The Committee will review and possibly pass the bill during its Friday meeting. You can find out the time of that meeting on the Committee’s website and listen in to the meeting through the Legislature Live site.
The second major drinking water protection bill moving in the Legislature is a bill to amend the Aboveground Storage Tank Act. The Aboveground Storage Tank Act was passed last year following the chemical spill into the Elk River, which affected drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians.
SB 423 and HB 2574 make major changes to the tank bill passed during the last session. These changes include exempting up to 90% of the storage tanks that the 2014 bill covered. The proposed exemptions would exempt the Freedom Industries tanks, the tanks that were the original impetus for the 2014 bill. Additional information on this bill is available from the WV Rivers Coalition.
Neither SB 167 or HB 2574 have been taken up by the Committees to which they were assigned. Advocates are expecting the bill to be taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee soon.
Allowing Nurses to Meet Health Needs
Platform Issue 7 is a proposal to revise current laws to remove restrictions on Advanced Practitioner Registered Nurses (APRNs). SB 21 and HB 2450 would expand prescriptive authority of APRNs and certified nurse-midwives and would remove the requirement that they have collaborative relationships with physicians. In short, this law would allow APRNs to prescribe prescription drugs. The need for these changes was originally identified in certain rural communities that have limited access to physicians but have APRNs that could provide expanded services to the area if those services were legally permitted.
The proposal has met with some resistance in the House and Senate Health Committees and advocates are currently working with stakeholders to identify possible compromises. Currently, the issue has not been taken up on the Committee agendas.
Family Support Funding
Finally, the top issue on the Campaign platform is to protect and secure funding for family support programs (platform issue 1). Last year, the Campaign fought hard to restore over $1 million in funding to family support programs including family resource networks, child advocacy centers, domestic violence programs and other groups. The Governor’s proposed 2016 budget would renew cuts to these programs (along with most other state programs). Family support program cuts are currently proposed to range from between 8.5% to 13.3%. Stay tuned for the fight on these and other budget issues to heat up towards the end of this year’s session.
Are there issues you thought were on the Our Children, Our Future platform that you don’t see listed here? A number of platform policies have not been introduced as legislative bills yet. These include Paid Sick Days and Stopping Meth Labs, among other issues. If you want to keep track of these issues or anything relating to the Our Children Our Future Campaign, contact Chris Kimes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The WV Community Development Hub has been a member of the Our Children, Our Future Campaign since the Campaign formed in 2012.