By RUSTY MARKS
The State Journal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Del. Gary Howell, R-Mineral, wants to re-introduce a bill he co-sponsored during the 2017 session of the state Legislature that would provide identification documents to homeless people free of charge.
“This bill is designed to help homeless people get the documents they need to begin to improve their lives,” said Howell, who is chairman of the House Committee on Government Organization.
“Too many times, homeless people are caught in a trap,” Howell said. “They can’t get a job or apply for assistance because they don’t have an ID, and they can’t get an ID because they don’t have a permanent home.”
Language in the original bill contained legislative findings that “homeless individuals are often the victims of crimes in which their personal identification documents are stolen or lost;” that “personal identification documents are necessary for obtaining employment or certain public benefits, but the fees for acquiring documents may be prohibitive to a homeless individual,” and that “removing barriers that prevent homeless individuals from obtaining identification documents may enable those individuals to achieve greater financial stability and a permanent home.”
The bill was co-sponsored by Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, and Stephen Baldwin, former Democratic delegate from Greenbrier. The bill was introduced on the first day of the legislative session, but was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it remained for the rest of the session.
Howell wants to bring the proposed legislation back for another try. Since personal identification documents are necessary for obtaining employment or certain public benefits, but the fees for acquiring replacement documents are unaffordable for homeless individuals, the bill would help them obtain these documents at no cost, said House of Delegates spokesman Jared Hunt.
“Government should not stand in the way of people who are trying to pick themselves up,” Howell said. “Homelessness is a problem that people in cities across the country are trying to correct, and this bill will give those who are homeless an essential tool to get their lives back on track.”
Staff at Covenant House in Charleston were trying to help a homeless man from Ohio track down or replace lost identification documents on Dec. 21.
The regular 2018 legislative session begins Jan. 10.
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