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West Virginia Senate Government Organization Committee passes bill transferring control of the Broadband Enhancement Council

By Matthew Young, WV Press News Service

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Senate’s Government Organization Committee met on Thursday to engage in further discussion relating to four separate bills.

The proposed bills discussed included SB 542, regarding the possible transfer of the Broadband Enhancement Council from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Economic Development, and SB 570, which calls for the training of law-enforcement and correction officers with regard to individuals suffering from  Alzheimer’s and dementias. Additionally, the legislators considered committee substitutions for SB 524, which seeks to expand the purview of the Department of Arts, Culture and History, as well as SB 522, which proposes combining the State of West Virginia Equal Employment Opportunity Office and the Americans with Disabilities Act office were discussed. 

Committee Chair Sen. Mark R. Maynard, R-Wayne, called the meeting to order, and minutes from the Feb. 3 meeting were unanimously approved. Discussion of committee substitution for SB 522 was then moved to the top of the agenda, with Committee Counsel J.A. Curia III providing an overview of the bill.

Curia explained how the proposed name of the combined offices would be “The State of West Virginia Office of Equal Opportunity”, and housed within the Department of Administration. The office would then be overseen by the newly created “State Equal Opportunity Coordinator.”

“The committee substitute removes a billing-mechanism for the office to charge for services of the coordinator,” Curia said, before further explaining how the substitution will result in a savings of $78,000. 

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, inquired as to which positions would be eliminated should the bill pass. Curia advised the committee that while positions would indeed be consolidated by the combining of the offices, no employees would be laid off. A motion by Vice-Chair Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, to move the bill to the full senate with a recommendation to pass was then adopted by the committee.

Next on the agenda was SB 542., with an overview provided by Committee Counsel Carl Fletcher. Filed for introduction by lead-sponsor Sen. Waynard, the bill would serve to amend and reenact §31G-1-3 of the Code of West Virginia – 1931 by not only transferring control of the Broadband Enhancement Council, but by further removing the Secretary of Commerce from it. Under the bill, the Secretary of the Department of Economic Development would be installed as a voting member. As there were no questions asked of counsel or comments made by committee members, a motion by Sen. Swope to move the bill to the full senate with a recommendation to pass was adopted.

The committee then moved on to SB 570, with Fletcher again providing an overview.  Fletcher outlined the guidelines of the proposed training program for members of law enforcement and corrections officers, stating, “The course would provide at least two hours of instruction in identifying symptoms of Alzheimer’s and related dementias, and techniques for de-escalating situations.” 

Fletcher further explained that the training will be developed and administered by the West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association at no charge, before yielding the podium to the association’s representative, David Zielonka.

“This bill is to amend a similar measure that was passed last session requiring an additional two-hours of training for law enforcement personnel in identifying and treating those who suffer from autism (as well as Alzhiemers and dementia),” Zielonka told the committee.

At the conclusion of Zielonka’s remarks, Sen. Swope moved that the bill be moved to the full senate with the committee’s recommendation that it be passed. The motion was then adopted.

The final piece of legislation on the agenda was the committee substitute for SB 524, with an overview once more provided by Fletcher. Fletcher explained that the bill, originally requested by Gov. Jim Justice, “consolidates the State Library Commission and the National Coal Heritage Area Authority under the agents of the Department of Arts, Culture and History.”

Heather Campbell-Shock, director of Library and Development Services for the West Virginia Library Commission, appeared before the committee to express her general comfort with the proposed legislation, stating, “I feel that we can still do the services and serve the public libraries as it is written.” 

Next to provide testimony before the committee was Christy Bailey, executive director of the National Coal Heritage Area Authority. However, Bailey had less confidence in the proposed bill than did Campbell-Shock. 

“I’m concerned about adding an additional layer of bureaucracy to an organization that’s operating effectively despite being understaffed and underfunded,” Bailey told the committee. 

Garner Marks, deputy general counsel to Gov. Jim Justice then took the podium and offered a rebuttal to Bailey’s statement, saying “There’s specifically a provision in there that says all obligations of the National Coal Area Heritage Authority will become the obligations of the National Coal Heritage Area Commission.” 

Despite objection from Sen. Richard D. Lindsay II, D-Kanawha, Sen. Swope’s motion that the bill be moved forward with the committee’s recommendation to pass was adopted. 

As there was no further business before the committee, the meeting was adjourned by Sen. Swope. 

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