Cops and Courts, Education, Environment, West Virginia Legislature

House aides-to-teachers bill and PFAS protection bill head to Senate, but with some GOP dissent

MORGANTOWN — It’s been clear this session that the House Republican supermajority doesn’t walk in lockstep, and that was evidenced in two bills passed on Friday and sent to the Senate — one addressing the teacher shortage and one tackling “forever chemicals” in water supplies.

HB 2761 would allow a county school board to employ a classroom aide with no less than 10 years of service and 60 hours of college credit as a teacher — with the proviso that the aide complete a teacher prep course and get certified within three years, or graduate from a higher education institution.

A teaching contract is conditional upon receiving a teaching certificate or alternative program certificate within three years of the end of the initial employment term. The first year of employment is considered clinical practicum.

Delegate Adam Vance, R-Wyoming, said the bill has good intentions but is flawed in several ways. It doesn’t allow aides who can’t complete their certification within the window to get an extension — a courtesy afforded others pursuing certificates.

At the same time, he said, it allows those without education degrees to go into a classroom when teachers with education degrees might be barred. He cited the example of his wife, who has an education degree but was prevented from taking her final Praxis test by the COVID pandemic and was told she would have been better off just getting a permit — which would have allowed her to teach.

Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, brought up a hypothetical of an aide in her second year of teaching who could bump a certified teacher in her first year competing for the same spot.

Democrats opposed it, too. Delegate Elliott Pritt, D-Fayette, said there are many ways to address the state’s teacher shortage, but this isn’t one. “There are too many what-ifs and too many questions with this bill.”

Among them, inadequate training, pay scale and determining what ages an aide is qualified to teach, he said. “Ten years as a classroom aide does not equal the qualifications to be a teacher.”

Countering that argument, Delegate Dana Ferrell, R-Kanawha, a teacher, said he had an aide in his class and he would trust that man over any substitute. “I don’t know that there’s any better training than on the job.” It’s another pathway to address the shortage of teachers and aides, and another avenue to get a degree.

Delegate Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, said a person with 10 years of service probably understands a classroom better than a fresh college graduate.

The vote was 71-22 with 13 Republicans joining nine Democrats against it. One Democrat voted for it.

PFAS bill

HB 3189 is the PFAS Protection Act, targeting PFAS — known as “forever chemicals” in drinking water. It follows on the heels of a Department of Environmental Protection Study ordered in 2020, performed by the U.S. Geological Survey. Under new EPA drinking water advisory numbers, 137 of the state’s 279 raw water intakes showed levels above EPA advisory levels.

Under the new direction ordered in the bill, DEP will go back, resample the finished (treated) water from those sites and try to determine the sources. Industries that use PFAS chemicals must report their usage to the DEP. And DEP will, to the extent data is available, consider ways to address the sources and mitigate the impacts on public water systems.

There was no discussion or debate, but there was some dissent. The vote was 82-9 with all the nay votes from Republicans.

Other bills

The House agreed unanimously on two other bills.

HB 2252 raises the penalties for human trafficking.

The penalty for trafficking or aiding trafficking of an adult rises from a range of 3-15 years to 15-40; for trafficking a minor it goes from 5-20 to 25-100. Using an adult in forced labor goes from 1-5 to 15-40; for a minor it rises from 3-15 to 25-100.

Using an adult or a minor in debt bondage goes from 1-5 to 15-40. Compelling an adult to engage in commercial sex goes from 3-15 to 25 with no maximum. For compelling a minor it goes from 10-20 to 50 with no maximum. Patronizing an adult victim of sex servitude goes from 1-5 to 25-100. Patronizing a minor goes from 3-15 to 50 with no maximum.

Those convicted of the crimes against adults must serve half their term before becoming eligible for parole. For crimes against minors, there is no parole.

Lead sponsor Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, said the state as a whole is vulnerable to trafficking, with interstates passing through and converging in rural areas. There are high numbers of kids in foster care who can be forgotten along the way and massage parlors staffed by trafficking victims.

“I hope that this bill does have an impact,” he said. He talked about criminals who should be retrained and rehabilitated, and criminals who fall under this bill — who trade in kids or immigrants — who shouldn’t. “Those are people that I would call soulless cowards. That’s the reason we build prisons.”

HB 3555 is aimed at curbing coursework costs for college students.

It says that if the required course materials have not been selected before a student’s enrollment in a course and the selection would raise the cost for the student, the institution may only assess the new or increased charge if the institution has a policy to allow the student to opt out of the way the institution provides for the student to obtain or purchase the course materials, and to receive a full refund for any charges already incurred.

It also says institutions may work with booksellers, publishers, or other third parties to offer courseware and book fees at a lump sum or per-credit-hour amount, provided that an opt-out option is offered to students in advance of the start of each academic term.

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