Editor’s note: This story updates an earlier version that said Senate Bill 498 had passed. The Senate vote was still under way at midnight, when the 60-day session ended.
CHARLESTON – While the weather outside the Capitol was cold and snowy, it got heated inside Saturday in the last hours of the 2022 legislative session after the West Virginia Senate made amendments to bills that upset the Democratic Senate minority and caused issues in the House of Delegates .
At the stroke of midnight, the Senate concurred with House changes to Senate Bill 498, the Anti-Racism Act, in a 22-10 vote. To try to get the bill completed in time for the deadline, the Senate majority voted to call the question, ending all possible midnight debate and delay by the Senate Democratic minority. However, according to the Legislature’s real-time bill tracking website and the Senate Clerk’s Office, the bill did not make it in time for the end of the session.
An attempt by the Senate to amend changes the House made to a Senate bill dealing with unemployment fraud died after the Senate amended the House message Saturday night. Senate Bill 543, creating an unemployment compensation insurance fraud unit within WorkForce West Virginia, passed 20-11 over the protests of Senate Democrats when Senate Republicans offered another amendment to the bill.
The majority amended provisions of Senate Bill 2, lowering the number of allowable weeks of unemployment benefits from 26 to 12; Senate Bill 3, requiring specific work search activities to qualify for unemployment benefits; and Senate Bill 576, allowing workers fired or laid off due to COVID-19 vaccine requirements to claim unemployment. The bills were combined into SB 2 by the House, but the bill was stuck on the House’s inactive calendar.
“All three of these bills previously passed the Senate and concern unemployment benefits and fraud prevention measures,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha.
Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, ruled the amendment was German to the bill after Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, questioned the validity of the amendment. In protest, the minority asked that the bill be read in full, a parliamentary tactic used for protest and to slow down the legislative process.
The Senate had 37 bills on its third-reading agenda Saturday, including House Bill 4344, the foster care bill. The Senate passed the bill 33-0 after gutting it of a data dashboard, a foster care placement database, and pay raises for CPS workers. Those raises will instead happen later when the Department of Health and Human Resources collapses vacant positions and uses those funds for CPS raises.
Instead, the bill only deals with court requirements and the foster care ombudsman position. Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, said he would still support the bill, but he expressed disappointment the bill was gutted.
“I support the bill, but I request and hope in the near future time or future legislative sessions that leaders recognize how important this issue is in order to have not only a good foster care system, but an efficient system,” Lindsay said.
The bill was gutted by the Senate Finance Committee despite broad bipartisan support for the House version of the bill by a near-unanimous vote in the House and improvements by the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee.
“The Department of Health and Human Resources has failed miserably in implementation of programs just like this,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, defending the committee’s version of the bill. “Two drop another $2 million in an inept agency deploying those kinds of resources until we get it fixed makes no sense to me.”
House Bill 4252, a bill that reduces the co-pay on insulin and medical devices used by people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, also died Saturday night after the Senate amended a bill dealing with the Public Employees Insurance Agency into the bill.
HB 4252 would amend a previous law passed in 2020, allowing copays for a 30-day supply of insulin covered by prescriptions to drop from a maximum of $100 to $35. The bill would put a $100 cap on cost sharing for devices used by diabetics, such as blood glucose test strips, glucometers and continuous glucose meters, lancets and lancing devices and insulin syringes. It would also put a $250 cap on cost sharing for insulin pumps used to inject insulin at programmed intervals.
“This is a bill that will help those afflicted with the chronic disease of diabetes by controlling their costs for the price of insulin, the price of the devices, and the price of an insulin pump,” said Senate Health and Human Resources Committee Chairman Mike Maroney, R-Marshall.
“…This is a big deal for these patients,” said state Sen. Ron Stollings, R-Boone, a physician. “This is excellent legislation that would really, really help improve the health and the affordability and the accessibility for our diabetics in West Virginia.”
The Senate adopted an amendment to the bill offered by the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee to ensure the bill applied to coverage for state employees by the state Public Employees Insurance Agency.
An amendment to the amendment offered by Maroney added language from a previous bill, Senate Bill 574, dealing with PEIA reimbursement costs for emergency medical services and inpatient hospital care. The House put SB 574 on its inactive calendar on second reading and hasn’t moved it.
SB 574 would split PEIA into two plans; the State Employee Insurance Plan and the Non-State Employee Insurance Plan. The bill requires PEIA to establish and maintain a reserve fund to supplement any reimbursements made to hospitals and emergency medical service providers or agencies. PEIA would reimburse any hospital that provides inpatient care to a beneficiary covered by the plan at a rate of 110 percent of similar services offered by Medicare by July 1, 2023.
Sources on the House side said they likely wouldn’t be able to support HB 4252 with the PEIA amendment attached to it.
House Bill 4012, prohibiting showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination, passed 24-9. The bill would prohibit higher education institutions, and state and local government entities from requiring people to show proof of vaccination to enter those institutions. It also allows people to bring action against those institutions if the law is violated. The bill does not prohibit private businesses or other institutions from requiring proof of vaccination.
An amendment offered by the Senate Judiciary Committee would exempt employees and employers who are required to work in Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities after the US Supreme Court ruled last year that the federal government could require COVID-19 vaccines for people who work in those facilities . The amendment also includes an exemption for higher education when it comes to federally funded facilities.
“There are provisions…that carve out and recognize the primacy of the federal regulations that have been upheld by the US Supreme Court,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump.
“This bill…at this point of the pandemic is scarcely needed,” Stollings said. “We’re on the wane, thank goodness. However, with this in mind, if we had a new variant, the passage of this bill could prevent local governments and higher education institutions from being able to respond with a tool that may reduce transmission in their communities.”