By Phil Kabler
For the West Virginia Press Association
A tumultuous week at the Capitol was marked by intense, emotional debate, and a 59-41 passage vote in the House of Delegates of a controversial measure to allow individuals with conceal carry permits to bring firearms onto state college campuses (HB2519).
Long-simmering political tensions in the House boiled over Friday, as several Democratic delegates objected to an islamophobic poster featured in a vendor display outside of House chambers as part of West Virginia GOP Day at the Legislature.
That prompted a rare floor speech by Speaker Hanshaw, calling for decorum and cooperation.
“We have allowed national-level politics to become a cancer on our state, to become a cancer on our Legislature,” he told delegates.
On Wednesday, the House passed HB 2519 Wednesday night following a series of procedural moves earlier in the day that had seemingly killed it.
“The only people who want it are the NRA and the CDL (Citizens Defense League). The universities certainly don’t want it,” House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said after a vote in House Rules Committee to move the bill off the active calendar – a potentially fatal move since Wednesday was the last day this session that the House could vote to pass House bills.
After a vote on the House floor seemingly locked in that action, the Rules Committee met again Wednesday afternoon, with House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, ruling that committee could vote to move the bill back on the active calendar, which it did on a 11-9 vote.
“It appears the NRA has so many people terrified of going against them,” Shott said after the bill was procedurally brought back to life.
Shott, a longtime consistently pro-gun vote, said he opposes the bill because he believes it is legislative micromanagement, and will be costly for colleges and universities to implement.
That set up a contentious and emotional nearly four-hour debate on the bill, as delegates methodically rejected a series of amendments intended to expand exemptions for campus carry, including setting a minimum age of 21.
Proponents of the bill contended it would allow students to protect themselves from violence on campus.
“That’s exactly what the opposition wants: Send your children out into the world unprotected,” said Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh. “We can give our students, our young people, the ability to protect themselves.”
Opponents of the measure cited widespread opposition to the bill from college administrators, faculty, law enforcement officers, students and parents.“I really believe that there is just as much opposition to this bill from higher education and the general public as there was to Senate Bill 451 from K-12 public education and the general public,” Delegate Dave Pethel, D-Wetzel, said of the bill, comparing it to the rejected omnibus education bill.
West Virginia University administrators, recognizing the bill has strong support in both houses, has been trying to add a number of exemptions to the bill to make it more palatable.
“Legislative support for this bill is overwhelming — approximately 2-to-1 in support,” WVU President Gordon Gee said in a statement. “In light of this broad legislative support for the campus carry legislation, we have worked diligently to get exceptions to the broad scope of the legislation.”
The bill is now in the Senate.
With the legislative session approaching its 60th and final day on March 9, work in the House and Senate turned to finalizing the 2019-20 state budget.
While the two versions of the budget bill are not far off in terms of numbers – the Senate bill currently appropriates $4.659 billion of general revenue funds, the House version, $4.666 billion – there are wide variations to be resolved between the two bills.
One key difference is that the Senate version (SB150) does not include funding for pay raises for teachers and school service personnel. (The House bill (HB2020) includes $67.7 million to cover the raises, averaging 5 percent overall.)
Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said the absence is simply procedural, since the Senate has not yet passed the House’s so-called “clean” pay raise bill (HB2730).
However, senators including Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, fretted that the omission of teacher pay raises in the Senate budget could be potential retaliation for efforts by teachers that led to the defeat of the Senate’s omnibus education bill (SB451), which linked the pay hikes with various educational measures, including establishment of charter schools and education saving accounts.
“Teacher pay should have been included,” Unger said, noting that the Senate technically has passed the pay increases in SB451.
Also during the next-to-last week of the regular session, Legislation that would have required state Medicaid recipients to work, train, volunteer or attend substance abuse treatment in order to keep their health care coverage died Wednesday, when the House Rules Committee moved it off the active calendar (HB3136).