League of Women Voters, Opinion

Bills on human rights to watch

The 2024 Legislative session is underway, and the League of Women Voters is tracking bills and preparing for a Legislative Scorecard like the one published for the 2023 session. While no bills have yet been enacted and signed by the governor as of this writing, this is the perfect opportunity to monitor what is going on in Charleston and how it may affect your community and you personally.

Here are some of the bills we are watching that are in line with the League’s priority of safeguarding equal rights, including an individual’s right to make reproductive choices.

  • HB 4194, the Fairness Act, would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the West Virginia Human Rights Act. Since 2007, the Human Rights Act has prohibited discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing in regard to race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, blindness or disability.
  • HB 4176 would provide protections in the exercise of constitutional rights of free speech, freedom to petition and freedom of association.
  • HB 4183 would provide easier access to contraceptives and elective sterilization.

Unfortunately, numerous bills continue to target some of West Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens. While these laws may not specifically target your individual rights, they can limit and deny equal protections under the 14th Amendment for people in your family, your community and your state.

  • HB 4934 would make the act of panhandling and soliciting unlawful. The bill defines panhandling as any solicitation made by a person whether by sign, gesture or verbally requesting money, funds, goods or food.

Just a few months ago, the Monongalia County Commission converted its proposed anti-panhandling ordinance into a “public safety” ordinance to avoid running afoul of the Constitution’s free speech protections. It is important to remember why people may panhandle.

In 2022, the poverty rate in West Virginia stood at almost 18%, the third highest rate in the nation. Our state’s rate of childhood poverty is the worst in the nation: 25% of our children are being raised in poverty. Food insecurity is widespread, even in relatively affluent Monongalia County.

  • SB 224 would prohibit minors from being involved in or attending drag shows, parental permission notwithstanding.
  • SB 198 would ban the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in public and charter schools. The fact of the matter is that CRT originated as advanced study in law schools; it is not, and never has been, taught in K-12 academics.

Despite the Legislature passing a near-total ban on abortion in 2022 — with League opposition — multiple bills aimed at further restricting reproductive rights have appeared in the 2024 session.

So far, these include SB 207, which mandates data collection on legal abortions provided for any physician that bills Medicaid for services; SB 278, which would restrict the use of drugs approved by the FDA to induce abortion; SB 246, which would remove the rape and incest exceptions to the current abortion ban; SB 468, which would require public school students, under the guise of education on human development, to view video propaganda produced by a group that seeks to ban abortion nationwide; and SB 284, which would prohibit pregnancy terminations when or if a fetal heartbeat is detected.

If the State of West Virginia is serious about attracting new residents, prosperous jobs, stopping the brain drain of our educated population and addressing the crisis of statewide poverty, it is essential for the Legislature to promote equal rights for all of West Virginia citizens. A few of the bills introduced so far this session would make West Virginia more welcoming. Many, unfortunately, do the opposite.

The League of Women Voters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting informed and active public participation in government. For more information, go to https://lwvwv.org/