Editorials, Opinion

Bills would codify myth, nullify local LGBTQ protections

Our weekly “The Good, the Bad and the Stupid” roundups are good for giving you a glimpse of the bills our state Legislature is considering and that you should keep an eye on. However, some bills need more context or explanation. HB 2184 and HB 2022 are two examples.

Codifying a medical myth

HB 2184 is misguided, but its heart is in the right place. It adds to the state code a criminal charge called “misdemeanor exposure.” The section of code reads: “Any person who unlawfully and intentionally possesses fentanyl or any other harmful drug or chemical agent and who exposes a government representative, health care worker, utility worker, emergency service person, correctional employee, or law-enforcement officer … to such drug or agent is guilty of a misdemeanor ….”

The wording includes “any other harmful drug or chemical agent,” but the new law was designed with fentanyl in mind — specifically a myth that just touching fentanyl can cause first responders to collapse.

Dr. Ryan Marino, medical director of toxicology and addiction medicine at University Hospitals in Cleveland, is quoted in The New York Times. He said, “The only way to overdose is from injecting, snorting or some other way of ingesting it. You cannot overdose from secondhand contact.”

Patrick Blanchfield, an associate faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, told  Business Insider  that most likely officers were having a panic attack so severe  it caused the physical symptoms they thought came from coming into contact with fentanyl. The heart palpitations, dizziness and shallow, rapid breathing first responders experienced are the hallmarks of a panic attack — not an overdose.

First responders undoubtedly face life-threatening situations while on the job, and they deserve to be protected. But in an era of pervasive misinformation, we must not allow falsities to be codified into law.

Goodbye non-discrimination ordinances

HB 2202 is misleadingly named the “West Virginia Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act,” but it has little to do with commerce.

It says, “No county, municipality or other political subdivision may adopt or enforce a local law, ordinance, resolution, rule or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.” The bill then proceeds to state, “Any local law, ordinance, resolution, rule or policy adopted before the operative date of this article that violates subsection (a) of this section shall be null and void.”

The law communicates to West Virginia’s residents that no place is really safe for LGBTQ+ people. There are 15 cities or municipalities, including Morgantown, with nondiscrimination ordinances, but there are no protections in state code. If this bill becomes law, local governments will have no authority to hold employers accountable for discrimination.

This bill, like several other pieces of proposed legislation, run counter to initiatives to bring more businesses and people to the state. Modern businesses are looking for places that are welcoming and inclusive of all people — and HB 2202 doesn’t make West Virginia appealing to prospective newcomers.