Education, flooding, hunger on the docket for West Virginia interims
Starting Sunday, lawmakers are expected to discuss some of the state’s most pressing issues when they gather in Charleston.
The Lincoln Walks at Midnight Statue sits in front of the West Virginia state Capitol building in Charleston, W.Va. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)
Lawmakers will hear about some of the state’s most pressing issues — including public education shortfalls, an overburdened foster care system and ongoing flooding issues — next week as legislative interim meetings kick off Sunday. They’ll gather in Charleston at the State Capitol.
Interim meetings, which occur throughout the year around the state, are often when lawmakers hear about issues that may be dealt with legislatively during the regular 60-day the following year.
According to the agendas posted at this time, here are some of the presentations lawmakers are expected to hear:
- Education — After recording the state’s worst math and reading scores ever in 2022, lawmakers have made a number of significant changes to how lower-level classrooms will teach the subjects in an effort to improve outcomes. Lawmakers are expected to hear an update on those efforts, including how the state is rolling out some of its “Third Grade Success Act” requirements as some schools have reported issues with meeting its staffing requirements. Lawmakers are also expected to hear the latest developments with Alderson Broaddus University and school counselor issues.
- Jails — Lawmakers failed earlier this year to pass bills that would have raised the pay for corrections workers and offered other solutions to the ongoing staffing crisis at the jails and prisons. The staff vacancy rate is currently at 33%. According to the agenda, lawmakers are expected to hear presentations about a nonviolent offense parole program, the parole board and other business.
- Flooding — Severe flood risk is significant in West Virginia, and a 2021 study said that more than half of the state’s infrastructure, including power stations, are at risk of becoming inoperable during flooding. One scheduled presentation on flooding issues will focus on the history and current status of funds utilized from the July 2016 flood, which killed 23 people and affected 12 counties.
- Foster care — Lawmakers cited the state’s troubled foster care system as a reason behind their decision to split the state health department. They’re expected to hear a few presentations on the issue this week, including an update on the state’s work to reduce its reliance on out-of-state facilities to house foster kids. The state has previously sent children to unsafe and abusive out-of-state facilities, and its reliance on facilities for children was one part of a sweeping lawsuit against the state health department, which oversees foster care. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources disputed the lawsuit, and agency leaders have said the state does not have enough in-state foster homes for the more than 6,000 kids in state care.
- Energy industry — Representatives from the oil and gas industry and the coal development industry are expected to share information about market and government trends.
- PEIA — Lawmakers earlier this year made broad changes to the Public Employees Health Insurance program, including a rate hike, in an effort to prevent program collapse due to financial stress. An estimated 230,000 residents, including teachers and state employees, use the insurance plan.
- Food insecurity — One in seven West Virginia residents struggle to access enough food. Food bank employees are concerned that the state’s hunger rate will rise with a new work requirement for some people who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to buy groceries.
Some committees have not yet posted an agenda.
A special legislative session is expected to be announced but no details have been released at this time. There have been multiple calls for a special session, in part, to deal with funding shortfalls that are impacting higher education, jails and fire departments statewide.
This week, first responders from more than 200 agencies across West Virginia asked Gov. Jim Justice to include a bill to provide permanent, annual funding for them in the expected upcoming special session call.
And, in July, House Democrats asked the governor to call a special session to address funding gaps in higher education, pressing problems in foster care and the staffing issues in the state’s jails. Gov. Justice said in July that a special session could involve a comprehensive plan to address staffing shortages in jails.
Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, will step down from his role as party minority leader following interim meetings. Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, will move into the leadership role.
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