Education, Energy, Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

Senate passes school water bottle filling station bill; House adopts resolutions for member floor speeches, power grid stability

MORGANTOWN — The state Senate debated a bill on Friday to require water bottle filling stations in schools, while across the Capitol delegates wrestled with a resolution allowing members to make floor speeches.

SB 246 is the water bottle bill. It requires water bottle filling stations for newly constructed schools and for schools undergoing major improvements. Schools undergoing improvements must retrofit or replace at least half their existing water coolers. The dictates how many stations and the locations.

Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said he served on a school board prior to joining the Senate. One reason he ran was “I was tired of Charleston micromanaging classrooms and schools.”

He said the bill is well-intentioned but carries unintended consequences, one being the cost. “This will be an unfunded mandate on county schools.”

It also takes away local control, he said, “I’m not sure if anybody realizes how immensely regulatory this bill is.” What’s next, he asked — paint colors or choice of bread?

Sen. Owens Brown, D-Ohio, worried that kids might carry booze or other contraband in their water bottles.

Finance chair Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, supported the bill, saying many times filling stations are cheaper than fountains, and cleaner. And many schools already have them.

Sen. Amy Grady, R- Mason, is a teacher. He also said most schools in her area already have them and lead to fewer students going out of room. They’re happier and drinking more water.

She said school building designers report that the costs to install them are fractions of pennies — just $350 out of a $10-million upgrade. “I don’t think the cost is really an issue at all.” And she’s not aware of any contraband in water bottles in her schools.

It passed 26-3, with Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, voting no. Sens. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, and Randy Smith, R-Tucker, were absent. Sens. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, and Mike Maroney (voting by proxy) voted yes.

House action

HR 9 is the floor remarks resolution. House and Senate rules have long provided for a period called “remarks by members” following floor business and before adjournment for the day. Members use the time to talk about bills and other issues.

As a response to the pandemic, the House changed its rule in 2021 to allow for remarks on Wednesdays after the floor session. In practice, these gatherings were held late in the day after afternoon meetings.

Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas, introduced the resolution to return to the traditional remarks time at the end of the floor session each day. No one from the public and very few delegates were showing up on Wednesdays, so no one was hearing the remarks, he said.

The House Rules Committee — composed of leadership from both parties, which votes on the day’s floor agenda — had recommended to reject the resolution in a party-line vote (House Speaker Roger Hanshaw couldn’t give the exact numbers but agreed that’s how it was).

But two amendments were proposed. Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, offered one, adding that each day’s remarks would be limited to 30 minutes, with five minutes per delegate.

Opponents of that amendment argued that this would limit how many delegates could speak per week and could be used to suppress remarks by minority members. It failed 37-55.

Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, offered another, supported by Hanshaw to keep remarks to Wednesdays, but to move them to the end of the floor session, with no time limit.

That one passed in a voice vote and the amended resolution was adopted.

Delegates also approved HR 5, a resolution supporting power-grid stability. It urges state and federal agencies and power companies to enact polices to ensure adequate supplies of reliable dispatchable (meaning ready on-hand) power, and to encourage development of carbon capture and storage, advanced nuclear reactors and small modular reactors.

Lead sponsor Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, said recent events — including the 2021 winter power outage in Texas that resulted in 850 deaths — demonstrate that baseload power is critical to grid stability and national security.

Natural gas is good, he said, but can’t be stored on-site in sufficient amounts for emergencies when the supply is cut. Coal and nuclear are the only two solid baseload fuels for uninterruptible power.

Zatezalo noted that China has 50% of the world’s coal-fired power, while India has 12% and the U.S. has only 6%.

The resolution was adopted in a voice vote but not unanimously — there was a small minority of nays.

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp