My parents always told me nothing good happens when you’re out late on the weekend. Point taken, but several important bills made it across the finish line just before midnight on the last night of the legislative session!
FOSTER CARE. Although the House and Senate both passed the foster care bill overwhelmingly, it came down to the wire. We negotiated all week and felt good about the bill’s passage, but for a few hours Saturday morning it came close to falling apart. We remained persistent, and the the results speak for themselves — a bill of rights for our foster children and their foster parents, a new funding system for foster families which raises everyone’s assistance but also directs more towards those with the greatest need, and a new set of responsibilities for those tasked with representing foster children in the courts. We still need to do more work on the root problem of why so many kids end up in foster care, but this is a major step in supporting those who are.
INSULIN BILL. A week ago, the insulin bill capping costs at $25/month was dead. Banking & Insurance Chairman Senator Mike Azinger refused to put the bill up for a vote because he opposed it. Knowing how much money it would save West Virginia families, we refused to take no for an answer. In the final hour, we got the bill passed after days of negotiations! While we hoped to maintain the $25 cap, Senate Republicans refused to vote for it if the cap was anything lower than $100. All in all, it’s a step forward in controlling outrageous medical costs, and we hope to build on it next year. It will save families several thousand dollars per year.
DENTAL COVERAGE. In a surprise step forward, we also passed a bill providing dental coverage to adults who have Medicaid. That means over 300,000 West Virginians will receive dental coverage now with federal dollars. Not only will that cut down on their long-term health care costs, but it will also benefit our economy to have a healthier workforce.
BUDGET. The budget passed on time again this year. Overall, it’s slightly smaller than last year’s budget. New spending was largely in the area of public health, which will save us money in the long run. Notable budget items include: 1) a pay raise for judicial officers (half the originally proposed amount), 2) funding for a new Mountain Challenge Academy in Montgomery, 3) increased funds for Rape Crisis Centers which have seen a 159% increase in calls, 4) funds to expand Communities in Schools to several additional counties, and 5) funds to hire additional Child Protective Services workers who are stretched too thin right now. The budget will continue to be under intense scrutiny over the next year as our economy is expected to contract.
PROTEST BILL. I received several hundred emails and calls about HB4615, which criminalizes civil disobedience at “critical infrastructure” sites. In reality, trespassing or damaging property at a place such as an airport or cell phone tower is already a serious crime. So what was the reason for the bill? It was intended to send a message to pipeline protestors. I voted no, because of local citizens like Becky Crabtree, a 65-year old woman from Monroe County, who protested on her own property the eminent domain used to take her land. She caused no one any harm, and shouldn’t face criminal charges, especially not felony charges like the bill proposed.
Now that the session is over, I will return to writing monthly rather than weekly columns. As always, follow my social media accounts for additional information each week. That’s the view from the back pew, where it is my privilege to serve you!
Senator Stephen Baldwin is a local Presbyterian pastor representing Fayette, Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers counties. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.