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Senate rejects effort to make House Bible elective bill match its version

MORGANTOWN — The state Senate on Tuesday backed off its more ecumenical approach to a pair of bills allowing high schools to offer elective courses on the Bible.

In a party-line vote, the Senate defeated an amendment to make the House version of the bill, HB 4780, match the version it sent to the House last week.

HB 4780 allows county school boards to develop elective social studies courses to teach the literary and historical aspects of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, including how the Bible influenced Western culture and the development of the United States. It passed the House 73-26 last week and came to the Senate.

Also last week, the Senate unanimously approved and sent its version, SB 38 to the House. Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, has successfully amended it in Senate Judiciary to allow county boards to offer elective high school courses on any sacred texts or comparative religion. The House let SB 38 die in its Education Committee to let HB 4780 finish its course.

HB 4780 was on second reading on Tuesday and Baldwin proposed to amend it to match the Senate bill. He cited testimony from committee that the focus on the Bible disenfranchises and devalues people of other faiths. For instance, a Rabbi said that Jews don’t call their scriptures the Old Testament.

“This bill without that amendment does that very thing – devalues the faith of our Jewish brothers and sisters,” he said. “Young people need to understand the faiths of others in this interconnected world … if we’re going to move beyond fear and terror. The answer to that is religious literacy.”

Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, opposed the amendment, saying that the Legislature could take up other bills authorizing electives on the Book of Mormon, the Koran or other sacred texts.

Democrat Sen. Mike Romano (left) chats with Republican Delegate Daniel Linville on the Senate floor.

Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood and sponsor of the original SB 38, also opposed the amendment, saying it undermined the bill’s original purpose. Hoe only voted for the amended SB 38, he said, because he didn’t realize its effects.

“This is a permissive bill. Nobody has to take it. Nobody has to teach it,” he said. The amendment failed 15-19. Republican Sen. Bill Hamilton voted with the Democrats.

HB 4780 is on third reading for passage on Tuesday.

Other bills

Baldwin also objected to a rules bill, HB 4217, containing rules for the Department of Environmental Protection. The bill had stirred controversy during interims when the joint Legislative Rule Making Review Committee approved a change requested by a coal firm to allow coal companies to determine whether to repair a home damaged by mine subsidence or to compensate the homeowner.

That provision when through several changes in the House and Senate. The version on third reading on Tuesday capped the damages at 120% of the home’s value if the homeowner chose that method.

Baldwin opposed the bill saying that restoring the house may cost twice its value. “Honestly, it made me a little sick … that we would do something with such little regard for the people of our state. …We’re giving away the farm. “

The DEP expects the U.S. Office of Surface Mining to reject, the rule, he said. So they should go back and retool it.

The bill passed 19-15 along party lines and goes to the governor.

HB 4083 requires the Parkways Authority to accept debit and credit cards for turnpike toll payments starting July 1, 2023, with an option ot extend the deadline. It passed 32-2 and returns to the House for amendment concurrence.

HB 4729 requires higher education boards to establish or continue an educational materials affordability committee to recommend to their bookstores how to minimize student book costs. This includes encouraging or incentivizing the use of older versions of books if they’re available, less costly and still relevant. It also includes using e-texts and online texts. It passed 34-0 and goes to the governor.

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