October interims set to start Sunday; lawmakers to discuss education, health and more
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)
State lawmakers will return to Charleston on Sunday for another round of interim meetings, where they are set to discuss everything from the future of the state’s health care industry to tourism and agriculture.
The October interim meetings are scheduled to run from Sunday to Tuesday. These meetings are held regularly throughout the year when the Legislature is out of session to allow lawmakers to hear presentations and reports on programs and departments within state government. Rarely is action taken during interims, but the information shared is often used to inform legislation introduced in the next regular session, which will start in January 2024.
Here’s a look at some of the things expected to come up during this month’s meetings:
At 2 p.m. on Sunday, lawmakers on the Joint Oversight Committee on Education Accountability will meet and hear presentations from multiple charter school officials in the state. According to the agenda, presenters will discuss ongoing challenges and successes related to funding for charter schools, student performance and more.
On Monday, members of the Joint Standing Committee on Education will meet at 5 p.m. in the Senate chambers to discuss school discipline data. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed House Bill 2890 which modified the authority of teachers and other school officials when it comes to disciplinary actions against students. The bill went into effect in June, and requires each county school district to work with teachers to create a tiered disciplinary system where certain punishments are used for specific kinds of misbehavior.
The Joint Committee on Health will meet at 2 p.m. on Monday, where lawmakers will hear from Keith Hoover, deputy administrative director and counsel at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, on the state’s mental hygiene process.
During the last regular session, a bill to reform the state’s mental hygiene process was introduced to the Legislature by Del. Gary Howell, R-Mineral. The bill would have localized responses for certain mental hygiene calls and set standards for response times. Lawmakers opted not to take the bill up for consideration in committee.
Lawmakers will discuss pay raises and recruitment and retention efforts for correctional officers at Monday’s meeting of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority.
During August’s special session, lawmakers passed Senate Bills 1003, 1004 and 1005, which put a little more than $27 million into the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation to help increase pay and provide bonuses for some employees as well as cover some parole fees. The bills were meant to help the division lessen staff vacancies — there is currently around a 30% vacancy rate among correctional officers — as the jail population in the state continues to grow.
Also on the agenda for Monday’s meeting is a look at the maintenance and upkeep for correctional facilities and buildings. Another bill passed in August, Senate Bill 1039, created a $15 million fund for deferred maintenance and the replacement of aging equipment at Corrections. The $15 million accounts for only about 6% of the need that Division of Corrections Chief of Staff Brad Douglas said in a deposition existed for such projects.
At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on the Department of Transportation Accountability will meet to discuss paving projects as well as the department’s finances and operations.
Over the past several weeks, Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston has come under fire for alleged conflicts of interest due to giving state contracts to a company where his son works. According to WSAZ, Wriston has repeatedly declined requests for interviews and representatives for the Department of Transportation have denied such conflicts despite evidence. Last week, the state Democratic Party called for an official investigation into Wriston and the Department of Transportation’s operations under his leadership.
Fire hydrant audit
Charlotte Lane, chair of the West Virginia Public Service Commission, will present to lawmakers on the Joint Standing Committee on Technology and Infrastructure at 11 a.m. Tuesday regarding the agency’s ongoing study of fire hydrants in the state.
The general investigation into the state’s fire hydrants was opened by the PSC in July. It followed a May house fire, where a Charleston family lost their home when responding firefighters could not find a functioning hydrant to connect to.
The commission has ordered all water systems in the state to submit a report to the PSC on their fire hydrants’ functionality and service. Lane’s presentation follows a similar one she gave in August, when only a handful of systems had fulfilled the agency’s order. According to the PSC website, reports have been regularly filed by water systems in the months since.
Other presentations scheduled for interims next week include a look at the state of coal and natural gas in West Virginia and a look at the state’s 2024 budget priorities, among other things. A full list of scheduled meetings and their agendas can be found here. Meeting times for interims are subject to change.
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