CHARLESTON — On the last day for each body to pass originating bills, the West Virginia Legislature approved several bills taking aim at different disparities in the state.
While the foster care reform bill passed by the House is still awaiting discussion by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate passed one bill Wednesday related to the overburdened child welfare system. Senate Bill 312 clarifies code to fit current practices and to ensure social work licenses are not given to those without social work degrees, while still permitting Child Protective Services workers — who do not need a social work degree — to be registered with the state Board of Social Work.
The legislation creates a new child protective caseworker classification that requires an applicant to, among other things, be at least 18; have a bachelor’s degree; be employed by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources; and complete training that has yet to be outlined by the Board of Social Work and DHHR.
Right now, anyone with a four-year college degree can become a CPS worker in West Virginia. Thanks to the 2015 legislation, the Board of Social Work would grant CPS workers a provisional license — only usable in West Virginia — that could turn into a full license after completing 12 hours of training through DHHR and passing the licensure examination.
While the bill did address a need for the Board of Social Work, it does not address the overarching need to recruit and retain more CPS workers, advocates say.
On the House side, delegates passed a proposal to create a task force on reducing smoking and vaping, particularly among young people in West Virginia.
The measure comes after a state health department study called teen vaping an “epidemic” and found that more than a third of West Virginia high schoolers vape. An estimated 4,200 West Virginians die from tobacco-related diseases annually, according to the report.
The bill, HB 4494, also creates a new special revenue account with a portion of the funds from the West Virginia Tobacco Settlement Medical Trust Fund, also known as rainy day fund B.
Senators also worked on bills Wednesday to address health disparities in the state. SB 648 expands Medicaid dental coverage to adults over the age of 21. The DHHR would be required to cover up to $1,000 per person a year for dental health procedures. The bill will cost the state $11 million, with about $50 million in federal matching funds. Funding for the bill is contingent on the federal government approving a state tax on managed care organizations.
Senate Health and Human Resources chairman Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, said the bill would benefit 300,000 West Virginians.
“I wish it was more than $1,000, but this is a good start,” said Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, a physician. “As we improve our financial situation, maybe we can push it up more. My geriatric patients are almost all covered by Medicaid and they almost all need dental work.”
The Senate also passed a bill to eliminate a 30-day wait period for tubal ligation procedures, commonly known as having your tubes tied, for Medicaid patients. Stollings said the bill will help prevent cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome by allowing doctors to provide the surgery for willing patients when they are already in the hospital.
Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, also rose in support of the bill, addressing fellow “pro-life” senators by saying the best way to prevent abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place.
The Senate also passed a bill further working on the state’s medical cannabis program, which was passed into law in 2017 but has yet to become fully operational. Senators approved an amendment to remove permitting dry leaf from the approved form of cannabis and to remove opioid addiction from the approved diagnoses that make a person eligible for a medical card. The amendment permits the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to recommend changes, such as permitting dry leaf or opioid dependency, and the commissioner for the Bureau of Public Health will have the final say.
Senators also approved an amendment on an unrelated bill that descheduled the drug Kratom. Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said the drug was not addictive, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse says the drug, which is derived from a tropical tree, can cause dependence because it affects the opioid receptors in the brain.
In response to the death of a Roane County football player who collapsed and died during a game last year, delegates in the House passed a bill requiring a defibrillator at high school and middle school sporting events. School sports personnel would also be trained to use the device under the measure.
Also in response to a high school incident, the Senate passed a bill that clarifies that discriminating against a person due to their hairstyle is a form of racial discrimination. During committee discussions of the bill, a Beckley mother said her son, a black man, was forced to cut his dreadlocks in order to participate in a high school sport, according to The Register-Herald newspaper.
Tarr, one of two votes against the bill, said he feared it would give more cause of action for lawsuits against employers, though Judiciary chairman Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the bill just clarified current law and plaintiffs would still have the burden of proving their claim.
Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, said he initially had some trepidation about the bill, but after learning more about the bill, he was in support of it.
“This Senate needs to take a stand against racial discrimination,” he said. “If you are afraid of being sued, then you need to look in the mirror.”
The House also approved a measure allowing wine stores in the state to make at-home deliveries and killed a bill that would have required car inspections every two years rather than annually.
The Legislature’s 60-day session ends March 7.