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2024 Legislative session begins with new bills and Babydog

MORGANTOWN — The 2024 legislative session began Wednesday afternoon at the state Capitol.

As usual, the opening floor sessions were largely formalities, but Babydog sparked a brief debate on the House floor, and the Senate continued its recent practice of accelerating passage of certain bills without committee consideration.

On the first day of the 2022 session, Gov. Jim Justice sparked national headlines by bringing Babydog to the podium at the conclusion of his State of the State Address. As we reported then, he talked about the naysayers and doubters who haven’t believed West Virginia could progress.

Then he lifted Babydog up and presented her backside to the audience, saying, “Babydog tells Bette Midler and all those out there, kiss her hiney.” Midler had recently drawn ire for calling West Virginians “poor, illiterate and strung out” in a tweet.

Babydog’s appearance was met by displeasure among legislators at the time — for the questionable tastefulness and the violation of House rules.

House Rule 136 spells out who may be admitted to the House floor when it is conducting business, and this rule is annually suspended to allow guests on the floor during the State of the State.

On Wednesday, House Minority Whip Sean Fluharty, D-Ohio, asked if the rule suspension would apply to dogs, and if a point of order objecting to a dog’s appearance could be raised.

Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said the rule doesn’t specify animals, but when pressed added it applies only to invited guests. Asked by Fluharty if Babydog has been invited, Hanshaw said, “I am not aware that an invitation has been sent.”

Other business

A House resolution, HR3, created a new Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence. Select committees are created to address specific issues and report their findings to the full body. When its job is done, the committee is dissolved.

The resolution says the committee, “shall receive testimony, consider legislation, and recommend action to the Speaker of the House regarding all issues relating to artificial intelligence in the state of West Virginia.”

On the Senate floor, 199 bills were introduced. The Senate waived the committee reference for 38 of them and read them a first time, moving them to second reading — the amendment stage — for Thursday and possible passage on Friday.

The bills read for a first time were Senate Bills 142 through 173 and 175 through 180.

Some highlights of those bills:

  • SB 143, the West Virginia Guardian Program, to allow county school boards to contract with an independent contractor who is an honorably discharged veteran, former state trooper, former deputy sheriff, or former federal law-enforcement officer to provide West Virginia Guardian services.
  • SB 144, requiring each county board to ensure that its meetings are open to public through in-person attendance and broadcast live on its website.
  • SB 145, limiting gubernatorial authority to spend certain federal funds without appropriation of the Legislature.
  • SB 152, to require “In God We Trust” signs be displayed in public schools.
  • SB 157, requiring one-year residency within a district or county to fill a vacancy in the Legislature.
  • SB 162, to establish the Summer Feeding for All initiative to encourage county school systems to look for innovative ways to provide assistance to students in need to access nutritious foods during summer break and other times when school is not in session.
  • SB 169, allowing physician assistants to own a practice.
  • SB 177, protecting consumers against automatic renewals without consent.

The Senate also introduced five resolutions to put constitutional amendments before the voters. Among them was SJR 3, to return control of state roads to the counties. This one came form Sen. Laura Chapman, R-Ohio.


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