Education, Energy, Environment, Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

Senate bills would increase number of gas well inspectors, reduce number of times homeschool families file assessment reports

MORGANTOWN — The state Senate on Monday passed bills to increase the number of gas well inspectors and to reduce the number of assessment reports homeschooling families have to file with their county school board.

SB 480 is the bill aimed at addressing the well inspector shortage. As reported before, the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas is underfunded and understaffed. In 2020, OOG received $4.7 million to cover 17 inspectors, one for every 4,000 wells. In 2021, reduction in drilling permit fees forced OOG to cut down to eight inspectors.

SB 480 would collect a $100 annual fee from every active gas well producing more than 10,000 cubic feet of gas per day. DEP says in the bill’s fiscal note that based on 2020 numbers, there were 13,937 wells producing 10,000 cubic feet of gas per day, and the bill would raise $1,351,800 per year.

DEP says this would allow OOG to bring back the nine field staff cut in 2020.

The bill says any unused funds would go into the Oil and Gas Reclamation Fund to plug abandoned and orphaned wells.

Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, opposed the bill for several reasons. He said it passed out of the Energy Committee quickly without any testimony from stakeholders or adequate review, and a reference to Finance was waived.

He said he prefers a bill that Energy chose not to consider, SB 613, which would have devoted a percentage of oil and gas severance tax to OOG for inspectors. That would put the burden on the companies earning the revenue and paying the tax dollars — a better method than a $100 fee.

Energy chair Randy Smith, R-Tucker, said the Legislature has been struggling for years to find a way to cover the inspector shortage. SB 613 would have taken money out of the General Fund to address a problem taxpayers did not create, whereas SB 480 will cost just 30 cents a day for a producing well.

“This is a fair way to do it for the people of West Virginia and for the industry,” he said.

It passed 25-8 and goes to the House. All local senators voted for it.


SB 541 is the homeschooling bill. Under current law, homeschooling families must conduct annual academic assessments, and submit the results for just four of them — at the end of grades 3, 5, 8 and 11.

The bill retains the annual assessment requirement but reduces the submission requirement to just one year: by June 30 at the end of the first year of homeschooling. Parents must also still keep three years’ worth of assessments, as under current law.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, was among those opposing the bill. “I know that the majority of homeschooling parents are doing a good job and they’re educating their kids probably as well as or better than the public schools can.”

But there is an unknown number of parents not doing their job and not educating their kids, who will be unaccountable, he said. “I’m all for homeschooling. I’m not for homeschooling in the shadows in the back hollows of West Virginia where nobody sees these children.” If parents are doing the assessments, it takes little extra effort to stick them in an envelope and mail them.

Education chair Patricia Rucker said West Virginia is among the minority of states that require any homeschooling assessments at all. She asked two- and four-year schools across the state about the readiness of homeschooled kids who enroll and all said those kids arrive with no deficiencies and have no issues integrating into the college environment.

“What this bill does, it essentially respects parents,” she said. Parental involvement is the top indicator of student success in any type of school model. “This bill says we trust and respect those parents. … Who is going to care more than a parent that a child is falling behind?”

It passed 20-13, mostly on party lines, and goes to the House. All local senators voted with their party.

House action

HB 2798 creates Embie’s Law, mandating newborn testing for mucopolysaccharidosis type 1 (MPS1), an incurable but treatable metabolic disorder, if diagnosed in young infants.

Sponsorship was bipartisan and lead sponsor Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, expressed his gratitude for the bill’s success.

He said he recently spoke with the parents of Embie, the 3-year-old girl for whom the bill is named. Embie has a young sister now, born in September. The sister and the parents are all carriers of MPS1, but don’t have it.

“The sooner this is diagnosed, the better quality of life that the individual can have,” he said. And Embie is full of life. “She’s a joy to be around.”

It passed 99-0 and goes to the Senate.

HB 4631 establishes a bone marrow and peripheral blood stem donation awareness program and directs the Bureau for Public Health to create a website and electronic brochure to inform and promote donation awareness.

Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia and lead sponsor, rose and talked about her son Dimitri, who died last June from leukemia. He kept a positive attitude, she said, after he came home from the hospital, still requiring medications, a walker, and a PICC line.

He posted on Facebook that he didn’t want pity. “I want people to see my story and take it as a learning opportunity.”

Dimitri passed before he was able to get a bone marrow transplant, Walker said. “Let’s continue to keep his life and legacy alive by pressing the green button.”

It passed 96-0 and goes to the Senate.

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp