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At session’s end, health bills move, Legislature approves a budget plan

By Lexi Browning

The West Virginia Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After a full session of passing, amending and debating legislation, the final day of the 83rd regular Legislative session came to a close Saturday with a budget surprise and numerous bills gaining approval in the final hours.

See all passed legislation here:

Review the Legislative blog at

Among the  262 bills gaining legislative approval this session, two health-related bills moved during the final day.

House Bill 2620, known as the West Virginia Drug Overdose Monitoring Act, passed with unanimous support in the Senate. The bill had reached its second reading Saturday, but the chamber’s majority voted to hasten its passage by suspending a constitutional rule requiring bills to be read over three consecutive days.

If signed into law, H.B. 2620 will create a statewide collection of criminal statistics and overdose statistics, both fatal and non-fatal, and establish the Office of Drug Control Policy within the Division of Justice and Community Services.

Del. Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia, lead-sponsored the bill. Delegates Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, John Shott, R-Mercer, Gary Howell, R-Mineral, Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, Ray Hollen, R-Wirt, Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, and Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha co-sponsored the bill.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, moved for immediate passage, stating: “A tsunami has hit our state: it’s opioid addiction,” Woelfel said. “If it hasn’t come to your district, ladies and gentlemen, it’s coming soon you just don’t know it,” he said. “That amber light above us should be lit until we address that single issue.”

Woelfel, who represents one of the most affected districts in the state, said the epidemic was “breaking down” the very fabric of the mountain state, causing children and adults to suffer.

“People are dying every day,” he said. “If we can’t support this simple measure and can’t create rules for this, it would just be shameful.”

Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, expressed his disappointment in the bill’s slow movement through the chambers.

“We’ve spent most of the session knowing that there’s a problem in this state and knew how serious this problem was,” Miller said. “We spent most of the session taking time to put people in jail, extend their jail times as payment for what they’ve done, but yet on the last night in the last few hours, we look at how we address the problem in this piece of legislation.”

Miller said H.B. 2620 should have been the first to pass during the session – not rushed and crammed into the last evening of the session.

“I think this is a good place to start, and I appreciate Senator Trump from Morgan County pushing to suspend the rules, but we should’ve done this before tonight. This is how we solve this problem – not by locking people up.”

The bill passed with unanimous Senate support and was reported to the governor’s office.

Legislation prohibiting individuals under age 18 from using tanning devices also passed both chambers Saturday evening.

House Bill 2520, sponsored by Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, passed 80-18 in the House of Delegates and 28-6 in the Senate.

Delegates Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, Vernon Criss, R-Wood, Martin Atkinson III, R-Roane, Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire also sponsored the bill.

Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, vocalized his support of the bill, citing his daughter’s recent experience with a tanning device.

“Recently, my daughter found her way into a tanning salon. I did not give permission, but she laid in the tanning bed for a short period of time,” he said, noting that it looked like “someone had taken a lighter to it and burned the skin.”

The desire to be tan was not unfounded, he said, but dangers associated with tanning devices were not worth risking.

“Right now we’ve got kids between the ages of 13-18, and they’re so focus on getting that copper tone tan that they’re willing to do anything they can to achieve it as soon as possible,” Ojeda said. “I think those are times when bad decisions are made. We can’t always keep track of what our youngins do, but after seeing her [injury] and knowing that it could affect her for the rest of her life, I just wanted to state my support of this bill.”

For Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, the legislation’s passage was personal.

“Melanoma is a deadly skin cancer; it’s not something they can scrape off easily. It can metastasize and kill you. In fact, it killed my first cousin Larry at 58 years old,” Stollings said.

Stollings said parental consent could not prevent a minor’s exposure to the Class I carcinogen, but education about its risks may persuade them to reconsider.

“I think sometimes a lack of knowledge about this makes it important for us to do something from a legislative perspective,” Stollings said. “People that use tanning beds before the age of 35 increases their risk of melanoma by 59 percent.”

As it had all session, the budget situation overshadowed all topics.

With two hours left before the session concluded, a hopeful Gov. Jim Justice met with the media and a crowd of Democrats to discuss budget movement and collaboration with the Senate.

Justice said he had felt unsettled by the lack of progress in the budget sector, but said he felt a sudden surge of confidence after texting Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, about his concerns. Justice said he considered Carmichael a “real friend.”

Justice expected the bill to include a four-cent gasoline increase, a 1 percent sales tax increase, business participation, and the eventual elimination of income taxes. The bill, Justice said, would not eliminate funding for higher education, K-12 or the DHHR, and would also provide 2 percent raises for teachers statewide.

“This bill, I really believe, will revolutionize our whole state,” Justice said. “It will take us from despair beyond belief to real opportunity. It could be opportunity beyond what we can comprehend.”

Justice said he hoped the House chamber would seriously consider the proposed budget.

“We don’t need to be a Democrat or Republican or Independent; we need to be West Virginians,” Justice said. “I’m proud of the Democrats’ courage and, tonight, of the Republicans.”

However, at night’s end, the budget bill passed by the House and Senate was much different than the bill Gov. Justice had outlined.

At 11:43 p.m., the Senate chamber passed H.B. 2018 with a vote of 22 yeas, 12 nays and 0 abstaining. At 1 a.m., the House passed the budget after a series of debates with 63 yeas and 37 nays.

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