Good: SB 477 — to establish the PROMISE Plus scholarship, which will supplement the PROMISE scholarship to equal the full cost of tuition for students who meet “more rigorous” standards. Once upon a time, the PROMISE scholarship was basically a free-ride — until the rising tuition at West Virginia’s public universities far outpaced the amount of scholarships offered. Now, the PROMISE can be a full-ride again. There’s a catch, though: The PROMISE Plus is only a scholarship if the recipient stays in-state for the same number of years they received the scholarship. Otherwise, it’s a loan that must be repaid. Potential PROMISE Plus scholars will need to have the foresight to know if they’ll stay in West Virginia after graduating, and if the scholarship is worth the restriction.
Bad: HB 4293 — to prohibit the delivery of unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Another GOP pre-emptive strike against mail-in voting. Absentee voting proved highly successful here in West Virginia and in many other states during the last election; many voting rights advocacy groups distributed absentee ballot applications to help people exercise their right to vote without exposing themselves to COVID. But mail-in voting also become central to the false narrative of a stolen election. This bill is an extension of pushing that narrative.
Stupid: HB 4298 — to ban all COVID vaccine mandates. It simply states (after crossing everything else out): “There shall be no mandatory or compulsory COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the State of West Virginia.” This, of course, runs contrary to the Supreme Court rulings that have upheld the authority of universities and private businesses to require COVID vaccines for students and staff, and as well as the recent decision to uphold the federal vaccine mandate for health care workers in facilities that receive Medicaid and/or Medicare funds.
Good: HB 4294 — to expand the volunteer firefighter income tax credit to all first responders. In this bill, “first responder” is defined as “a law enforcement officer, paid firefighter, emergency medical technician, paramedic or emergency dispatcher.” First responders will be able to credit up to $1,000 in a taxable year, and begins in 2023. The last couple years have been extremely difficult on first responders of all stripes, and this is a small way to give back to them. It’s also a way for the state to honor (and compensate) their service to the community today and every day.
Bad: SB 455 — to increase vehicle registration fees and to repeal requirements for vehicle inspections. While inspections are annoying, we have them to keep ourselves and other people on the road safe. Not everything that can go wrong with your car has a corresponding warning light on the dashboard, and inspections make drivers aware of immediate or soon-to-be issues that could cause harm to themselves or others. Vehicle inspections are a necessary evil.
Stupid: HB 4320 — to consider anyone with “natural immunity” acquired from contracting an illness as fully vaccinated. HB 4320 rides the vaccine ban’s coattails by falsely equating “natural immunity” with immunity from vaccines. Research has shown that immunity from COVID vaccines lasts significantly longer than any immunity acquired from contracting COVID. Also, the language of HB 4320 is not specific to COVID, but is open to all diseases, which makes this bill even more stupid. In places where anti-vaxxers have a foothold, diseases we hadn’t seen for decades are making a resurgence, such as the 2019 measles outbreak, when 1,232 people contracted the illness — most of them unvaccinated.