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House OKs bills banning certain COVID-19 vaccine, mask and quarantine mandates during a long floor session

MORGANTOWN – The House of Delegates plowed through a list of 33 bills Tuesday, including two dealing with COVID-19 vaccine, mask and quarantine mandates.

Tuesday was the 49th day of the session; Wednesday is Crossover Day when all bills must pass out of their house of origin in order to remain alive.

HB 4012 prohibits state and local governmental entities and hospitals from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry into the premises. It also prohibits higher education institutions from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccines as a condition for enrollment or entry onto their premises.

It excludes governmental properties leased to private entities and contains a proviso for instances where federal law takes precedence. It allows lawsuits for people claiming harm from proof-of-vaccine mandates.

Delegate Ric Griffith, D-Wayne, asked what recourse a person who died of COVID in a hospital had, and what protection college students in dorms will have. “What about the right to life? It astounds me.”

He said more than 4,000 people in Wayne County have been vaccinated and none have died, while 110 died who weren’t vaccinated. “I just want us to follow science ad medical practices and do what’s best.

It passed 80-16 with some Democratic support. Locally, five Republicans and Democrat Joey Garcia voted for it; the other five Democrats voted against it. Delegate Buck Jennings, R-Preston, was absent for the day. It goes to the Senate.

HB 4071 is called the Public School Health Rights Act and forbids COVID-19 mask mandates for students or staff, mandatory testing for asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic students or staff, and mandatory quarantines without a positive COVID-19 test. Quarantines must end after five days or a negative test.

Judiciary chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, said he’s heard from students, parents, educators and administrators who support it. “I think the vast majority of West Virginians support this concept. … This is something we need to learn to live with.”

Delegate Cody Thompson R-Randolph and a teacher, opposed the bill because of its quarantine provisions. “That just doesn’t make sense. You want to remove them so it doesn’t spread and you don’t have to shut your school down.”

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, also opposed it. “I think it should be up to our local school board and local public health officials to make those decisions.”

Delegate Roger Conley, R-Wood, said his aunt work her mask at home alone and in her car, but died of COVID anyway. “This is not hardcore science, this is political science. Masks do not work.”

Lead sponsor Jordan Maynor, R-Raleigh, said the bill offers the ultimate local control. “Why did local governments take control away from parents and individuals to make these choices for themselves?”

It also passed 80-16, with Garcia voting no on this one.

Other House action

HB 4502 is the BUILD WV Act. It provides for tax incentives for approved companies to build housing for graduate and post-graduate and professional job holders, technical workers and entrepreneurs in up to 12 designated areas; projects would be certified by Economic Development Department.

Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said he initially opposed it but came around when he saw the bill’s potential to enhance economic development and tourism. “I think that this is really a forward-looking bill.”

Delegate Laura Kimble, R-Harrison, opposed it. She said it puts government officials in the role of the free market in choosing where development occurs. Builders and developers are best suited to determine where they will invest. It picks winners and losers and could inadvertently create housing shortages in areas outside the 12 zones.

It passed 81-14 with the opposition from Republicans. All local delegates voted for it except Guy Ward, R-Marion.

HB 4553 generated the closest vote of the day. It exempts “wholesale generators,” from local zoning laws. Wholesale generators are companies that produce power for sale but aren’t public utilities. The bill excludes wind farms.

Delegates John Doyle, D-Jefferson, and Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said the bill was created to benefit one Jefferson County commissioner who has a financial stake in a solar farm project and wants the law changed now, even though the issue is before the state Supreme Court.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said the bill will help farmers in his county who are struggling and want to diversify their operations and not lose their land to residential housing springing up across the area.

The vote was 52-42. Locally, Democrat Dave Pethtel and Republicans Ward and Terri Sypolt voted for it. Democrats Joey Garcia, Evan Hansen, Danielle Walker and John Williams, and Republicans Phil Mallow, Joe Statler and Amy Summers voted against it. Democrat Barbara Evans Fleischauer was not in her seat for the vote.

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