Education, Energy, Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

Senate passes bill to lift nuclear power ban; House OKs bill to offer school training on eating disorders, self-harm

MORGANTOWN – The state Senate on Tuesday approved its bill to end the ban on nuclear power plants. The House of Delegates unanimously approved a bill aiming to provide eating disorder and self-harm training for teachers and students – following an emotional speech by the bill’s sponsor.

SB 4 is the nuclear plant bill. It’s one sentence long and repeals two sections of code passed in 1996 that enacted the ban.

Sen. Hannah Geffert, D-Berkeley, was among those opposing it. She said her father worked in the nation’s first nuclear plant and served on the nation’s first nuclear submarine.

She acknowledged that nuclear can offer a lot of power at a low rate. “My one concern is, do we have any plan on what we would do with the waste?” Much of it is stored in barrels on plant sites, she said.

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, also voted no. “We no longer live in a kind world, folks,” he said. He opposes it for national security and safety reasons. West Virginia and Kentucky are two of the only five states east of the Mississippi River without nuclear plants and, for safety’s sake, he wants to keep it that way.

Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, was among the supporters. “All this bill says is, ‘We’re open to discussion,’ ” he said.

Bill sponsorship was bipartisan and Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, was among them. “This is not our grandfather’s nuclear facility,” he said. “Nuclear can offer an important economic development tool.”

Finland has pioneered a waste storage means, he said, burying it deep underground without transporting it.

This bill makes us a leader in terms of being all of the above in terms of our energy sources,” he said, and being more attractive to manufacturers from around the world.

The vote was 24-7 and it goes to the House, where its twin, HB 2882, is on first reading. Locally, along with Beach, Democrat Mike Caputo and Republicans Randy Smith and Dave Sypolt voted no. Republican Charles Clements voted yes. Republican Mike Maroney was absent.

House bills

HB 4074 is Meghan’s Law, to train public school personnel and students regarding self-harm and eating disorder signs, prevention and treatment.

Several delegates spoke for the bill, last of all Delegate Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson. The bill is named for his daughter. He was in tears and too emotional to read the speech he’d prepared. Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, read it for him.

“Today we can help thousands of maturing children in the state of West Virginia,” Clark said through Espinosa. Toward the end of the last legislative session, Meghan started showing signs of an eating disorder, which caused conflict in the family and frightened Clark, his wife, Wendy and Meghan’s twin sister.

“Wendy and I did not know how to handle this. … Our daughter was determined to kill herself all over the belief that she looked better emaciated.”

They sent her to the Center for Discovery, an eating disorder treatment provider with centers across the country. Meghan arrived on Sept. 29, Clark said. Her heart rate was 20 beats per minute; she weighed 90 pounds – down from 125. “Her organs were shutting down. She was dying.”

She was on suicide watch for the first week. “What we did not know then was this was going to be the best thing we had ever done.” The treatment worked.

They learned from Meghan that her cheer coach told her she was too fat at 125 pounds to be a cheer flyer. That led her to hunt on the web for weight loss techniques such as purging and restricting food intake.

Clark mentioned other self-harm behaviors – cutting and so on. “We must stop this to save our kids.”

The vote was 93-0 and it goes to the Senate.

The House also passed these bills and sent them to the Senate:

HB 3312, to establish the first child labor memorial in the U.S., to be placed in Monongah and ready by Nov. 15, 2023, the anniversary of the Monongah mine disaster. The vote was 95-1.

HB 4062 allows the state highways commissioner to live outside of Charleston. Passed 90-6.

HB 4065 requires the state Board of Education to establish a hunter safety program to be taught outside of regular school hours, on school grounds whenever possible, with school transportation available. Passed 95-1.

HB 4112 is a 17-page bill aimed to prohibit pharmacy benefit managers from restricting pharmacies’ access to specialty drugs for consumers.

Government Organization chair Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, argued that the bill will conflict with aspects of the Affordable Care Act, leading to the PBMs pursuing expensive litigation that will drive up insurance premiums. Health vice-chair Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said it will offer consumers more choices and lower prices, It passed 81-13.

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