The Senate is one step closer to passing a changed version of House Bill 4283, which would raise the minimum wage.
The Senate’s version would give minimum wage workers 25 cents more next year, another 50 cents the year after and 75 cents more in the third year. That’s different from the House version, which gives workers 75 cents more in 2015 and 2016.
Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, tried to add another amendment that would bar minimum wage workers from paying union dues. Those workers could still be members of the union, but Blair said it is unfair for those unions to seek dues from low-wage workers.
“We grant all kinds of subsidies in government right now and we’re trying to get people off the welfare roles, off the unemployment roles and back to work,” Blair said. “This amendment makes it so we help these folks not hurt them. If they want to pay union dues, they can, but they shouldn’t be forced to when they’re working an entry level job making min wage. There’s just something wrong with that.”
Blair’s amendment was soundly rejected. The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow.
The Senate is one step closer to passing a changed version of House Bill 4283, which would raise the minimum wage.
A bill moving through the Legislature would give employees a little more privacy when it comes to their personal Internet accounts.
House Bill 2966 would allow employees to refuse to hand over passwords, especailly those to social media accounts, to their employer without fear of losing his or her job. Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday there have been cases across the country where an employee thought he or she was wrongfully fired for refusing to hand over personal information.
“What we’ve started to see in some places among hourly workers in the manager hearing something was posted on Facebook that slandered them,” Skinner said. “They’ll say give me your password so I can get into your Facebook account.”
Skinner, a lawyer, said he’s heard of at lest one case in the Eastern Panhandle where this happened. But Sen. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, said he thinks legislation is unnecessary because it’s not yet a problem.
”Are we really protecting anybody?” Cann asked.
Skinner contended the bill would protect West Virginia workers.
“As our lives become blended and we carry devices in our pocket where we have access to our personal lives,” Skinner said. “All of us have integrated lives where our personal and our business blend together. This (legislation) gives an employee some assurance they can have privacy in the workplace.”
The legislation would allow employers to enter into employee’s personal Internet accounts if those accounts were accessed using a company-issued phone or computer. Skinner said the bill addresses concerns that may arise outside of working hours.
“If you do use your computer the employer has the absolute right to monitor what they’re doing on their Facebook,” Skinner said. “It’s out of workplace when it blends. When the manager hears that an employee posts something about them on Facebook from another one of their friends, that’s what’s protected on off time.”
The committee is expected to take up the bill again during an afternoon meeting.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed out two health related bills.
The first would protect nursing mothers. House Bill 4335, Child’s Right to Nurse Act, allows mothers to nurse her child in any public place she is authorized to be. West Virgina is one of only a few states that does not extend legal protection to nursing mothers or their children, meaning proprietors can ask mothers nursing in public to leave.
The committee adopted a cleanup amendment and passed the bill to the full Senate. The bill passed the House February 26 with two no votes.
Additionally, the Judiciary Committee also looked at a bill that would ban anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing electronic cigarettes.
House Bill 4237 treats e-cigarettes the same as other forms of tobacco, meaning minors cannot legally purchase them. The committee adopted a technical amendment and passed the bill on to the full Senate. The bill passed the House unanimously February 13.
After nearly nine hours of discussion, the House Judiciary Committee officially approved the latest version of a bill crafted in the wake of the recent massive chemical spill. The bill passed by a unanimous voice vote.
The committee discussed more than 60 amendments, but several dominated the majority of discussion. The committee rejected a mandate for public water suppliers to have a secondary intake source, but required West Virginia American Water Co. install upgraded chemical detection equipment at the recently contaminated treatment facility and the state monitor the potential longterm health affects of the spill
Check out a recap of the first four hours of the meeting–which started at about 4:45 p.m. Sunday– at www.dailymailwv.com. Here are highlights from the last five hours of the meeting, which ended at 1:30 a.m. Monday:
- In a 12:45 a.m. vote the committee agreed to call on the state to conduct longterm medical monitoring. The amendment requires the state Bureau for Public Health engage in the work related to the recent leak, allowing it leeway in creating the outline for the monitoring. Bureau officials have said it will be too expensive, but Kanawha-Charleston Health Department head Dr. Rahul Gupta and Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, have said repeatedly it’s vital to have such monitoring.
- The committee approved an amendment that requires large public water suppliers to install new chemical detection equipment at treatment plants. The language of the amendment makes it likely West Virginia American Water is the only company to which the change would apply. A representative from ORSANCO recently discussed the upgrade, and West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said the company has the equipment in question installed at its Huntington facility. It passed by a 15-10 vote.
- Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, and other members of the Kanawha County delegation on the committee failed to garner support for his amendment to require West Virginia American Water to build a secondary intake pipe at the recently affected treatment center. The change would have allowed the company to receive up to $100 million in loans from the state to build the infrastructure. Those delegates who voted against the proposal cited issues with feasibility and giving such amounts of money to the Kanawha Valley when other projects in other areas away from the Capitol City weren’t funded. It failed by a 7-18 vote.
- An amendment proposed by Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Tyler, called for exterior inspections of aboveground storage tanks every year, and an interior inspection at least once in the next 5 years. The facility would have to inspect the inside of the tank every 10 years thereafter. The amendment failed after a representative from DuPont chemical discussed some safety issues he had with the idea. In arguing against the change, Delegate John Pino, D-Fayette, said “we have an industry with a good track record” in reference to the chemical industry. After three recent visits from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board regarding the industry, federal officials might disagree.
- An adopted change allows small public service districts (PSDs) more time to respond to the Bureau for Public Health concerning emergency preparedness.
- The committee created the Public Water System Study Commission, an entity that will consider the reports that come our in connection the leak and whether additional changes to the law are needed. The commission is also supposed to consider recommendations from the Chemical Safety Board’s other trips to West Virginia.
- After little debate the committee voted down a proposed amendment that would have forced public water utilities to close their intakes in the event of a spill until the water was deemed safe. McIntyre again told committee members in hindsight he wouldn’t close the intake, given concerns with fire prevention and sanitation concerns. Others expressed concerns about the definition of “safe”, an ongoing concern.
There were other amendments passed, and I’ll try to update the list once I track them down.
Keep in mind, the House Finance Committee still needs to approve the bill before it can go to the full House. The House can suspend ruls so it can fast-tack passage of the changed bill, but many of the failed amendments presented in the committee process could come up again on the House floor.
The Senate still needs to agree to the changes made in the House. If it doesn’t, each chamber must appoint members for a conference committee. The committee will hash out compromises that need approval from each chamber.
Keep in mind, all of this needs to happen before midnight Saturday.
A big part of the education reform bill that passed the Legislature last year emphasized closing the literacy gap among third graders.
Now, a bill moving through the Legislature would put added focus on early literacy initiatives. House Bill 4618, passed Thursday by the Senate Education Committee, would improve access to extended learning programs for children who are falling behind in school.
James Phares, superintendent of the West Virginia Department of Education, said policies in place that focused on the reading levels of third and eighth graders were reactive–students weren’t getting help until they demonstrated a need. This new policy would be more proactive and address issues before they affect performance.
“What we did was take that critical skills grant and make it proactive,” Phares said.
Now, schools can help children in pre-kindergarten through second grade work on their reading skills, which translates into better performance in other areas. That also means school officials can earlier identify children at risk for falling behind.
“With the new campaign on literacy, we’ll be using formative data that’s already being collected on students through observation,” Phares said. “We’ll be able to identify those students who are progressing as they should … and those who are falling behind.”
Additionally, schools will communicate with parents and inform them of their children’s literacy skills.
The Education Committee made a technical amendment to the bill and passed it on to the full Senate.
The Senate passed two House bills during its Thursday floor session.
House Bill 2165 would allow two free copies of death certificates to families of veterans, representatives of the veterans estates or the funeral home in charge of the veterans arrangements. Additionally, no fees may be charged for additional death certificates needed to obtain state or federal benefits.
The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. It will now go to the governor for his signature or veto.
House Bill 4504 would allow West Virginia’s Division of Juvenile Services to enter into a reciprocal agreement with other states to provide confidential use of juvenile records when a child is in another state’s custody.
Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Maryland is the only other state that has passed similar legislation. Passage of the bill means West Virginia and Maryland could enter into a reciprocity agreement.
The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously and will now go to the governor.
The Senate is expected to vote on legislation tomorrow that would increase pay for teachers and school service personnel.
Senate Bill 391 will be brought up for a vote when the Senate meets at 11:30 today. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed the legislation in his January State of the State address, suggesting teachers receive a 2 percent bump in pay. Although the Senate Education Committee amended the bill to give teachers a $1,000 across-the-board raise, the Senate Finance Committee again changed the bill to reflect the governor’s 2 percent proposal, citing state budget concerns.
Supporters of the Senate Education version said the $1,000 raise would help younger teachers more than the 2 percent increase. Teachers in West Virginia’s public schools see incremental pay raises for the first 35 years on the job. By increasing pay for young teachers $1,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, they would see more money over the long term.
However, the Senate Finance Committee said sticking with Tomblin’s proposal would save about $4.72 million. That committee did leave in language from the Senate Education substitute that calls for base teacher pay to begin at $43,000 annually starting in 2019.
“That didn’t affect this year’s budget which is what we have before us and why were constrained by the fiscal note,” Finance Committee counsel told members Friday.
The version of the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee will go before the full Senate on Tuesday. If it passes, it will then go before the House of Delegates.
A bill initially voted down by the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee has received second life and will be brought up for a vote tomorrow.
Senate Bill 628 would create the Healthy Children and Healthy Communities Act. The legislation calls on local and county government entities and agencies to provide a framework to help community residents lead healthier lifestyles. This includes the possible construction of walking and biking trails, the use of school buildings during the evenings for fitness classes and other initiatives.
However, the bill failed to pass through the committee last week. Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he thinks the bill is unnecessary because many communities already are implementing programs without the help of the Legislature. A motion to pass the bill on to the full Senate was rejected 4-6.
But the committee met again for about three minutes the next day to reconsider the bill. Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said he initially voted against passing the bill to the full Senate, but had a change of heart.
“It’s something I thought for a long time we should look at,” Hall said.
The bill was reconsidered and passed unanimously.
A similar bill, The Move to Improve Act, also will be brought up for a vote. Senate Bill 455 is the second phase of the Feed to Achieve Act that passed the Legislature last year.
Move to Improve requires students to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity in the classroom each day, in addition to physical education and recess.
It’s been a long, hard winter and it’s taking a toll on the state’s roads.
Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, has taken notice. Playmale said Wednesday he’s commuting this session because of a sick relative and is unnerved by the amount of potholes along the interstates and highways.
“If we don’t do something this spring, a paving cycle of some sort–our roads are in worse shape than I’ve seen in a while,” Plymale said.
Over the years, the length of time between paving cycles has fluctuated, and much of Interstate 64 was repaved recently. Plymale said the state of the roads is such a problem, it warrants dipping into the state’s Rainy Day reserve fund.
“I don’t know how much it would cost, I would say between $20 million to 25 million,” he said. “We need to find something, even if it was in the Rainy Day fund. This is a rainy day for our roads. If our roads aren’t kept and maintained, there will be problems going forward.”
Plymale isn’t the first to suggest taking money from the fund this year. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has proposed withdrawing money to close the budget gap this year. Although the fund totals around $915 million, that would only cover about three or four months of the state’s nearly $4 billion budget.
A bill allowing college prep sports teams to be recognized by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission passed the Senate.
Senate Bill 540 would allow the SSAC to recognize such teams if they meet certain requirements, including all students must attend the SSAC sanctioned school, the team cannot compete for league, regional or state championships and the team cannot include post-graduate students or fifth-year seniors on the roster, among other things.
Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, said he was “vehemently opposed” to the bill, citing a private school in his district that was extended an invitation to join the SSAC. According to Edgell, Linsly School refused to abide by the rules.
“The SSAC has rules,” Edgell said. “We shouldn’t be interfering in those.”
An amendment by Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, would have prohibited the SSAC from denying recognition to any private school in the state with a sports program. Walters is a graduate of Linsly, a private boarding school near Wheeling, and said that school and others shouldn’t be punished because of the makeup of their classrooms.
“Because Linsly wants to bring in international students to their classroom … they’re unable to compete in the state tournament,” Walters said, adding 80 percent of Linsly’s students are from the Wheeling area.
“This allows your West Virginians the ability to play in their state tournament and doesn’t punish them because they go to a school that allows for an international classroom culture,” Walters said of his amendment, which was rejected on voice vote.
Other private schools, most notably Charleston Catholic High School, are SSAC sanctioned and allowed to play for championships, Walters pointed out.
The bill passed 31-3 with Democratic Sens. John Unger and Herby Snyder and Republican Craig Blair voting against the bill. It will now go to the House of Delegates.