Business, U.S. President, West Virginia Legislature

Senate Texas resolution, House raw milk bill stir debate during Friday floor sessions

MORGANTOWN – The Senate and House cruised through lists of bills on Friday. A Senate pro-Texas resolution and a House raw milk bill stirred the most debate.

The Senate

SR 42 is the Texas resolution: “Supporting Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas’ constitutional right to self-defense.”

It begins, “President Biden and his administration have left Americans and our country completely vulnerable to unprecedented illegal immigration pouring across the southern border,” and ends, “Because the Biden Administration has abdicated its constitutional compact duties to the states, Texas has every legal justification to protect the sovereignty of our states and our nation.”

Lead sponsor Sen. Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha, said, “I think this is a really important resolution in terms of the statement this body can issue and the support it can issue to Texas Gov. Abbott and the challenge he faces on the southern border every single day, and has faced for years,”

While we don’t know who all comes across, he said, we know some are terrorists, traffickers or sexual predators. “We also know there are a lot of really good people coming across that border looking for a better life.”

He referred to Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution that allows states to defend themselves from invasion or imminent danger, which the Biden administration is fighting every day.

“We need to know who’s coming into our country,” he said.

Stuart is one of two Republican candidates for attorney general and Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, alluded to that in objecting to the resolution.

“That was a wonderful campaign speech,” he said, noting he supports a secure border. “What is happening down there is horrible and we do need to do a better job to get our hands around that.”

Attacking Biden is good political fodder, Caputo said, but reflects the steady decline in decorum the Legislature has seen in recent years. Attacks and heated arguments are part of the process, he said, but people were not mentioned or addressed by name in years past.

“Those days are gone, and I miss that. … This resolution does nothing except provide campaign material for those who are running for office in a state where President Biden lost by 70%. … Things like this reassure me I made the right decision not to run for reelection.”

Caputo bemoaned the resolution’s support of razor wire, when children are among those crossing. “Have we lost our minds?”

The vote to adopt was 31-1. It’s a Senate resolution and requires no further action. A copy will be sent to Abbott.

SB 75 is the Health Care Sharing Ministries Freedom to Share Act.

A sharing ministry serves as a facilitator among ministry members, who agree to assist other members with medical expenses through contributions. It is not health insurance, and the bill exempts them from the state’s insurance laws. A public higher education institution that requires health insurance must recognize a student’s membership in a sharing ministry in lieu of insurance.

Sen. Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, said he represents students at WVU and Fairmont State. If those students’ parents participate in a ministry, current law would require the parents or student to go to the extra expense of buying insurance. This bill relieves that burden.

The vote was 32-1, with Caputo against, and it goes to the House. The House has its own version of the bill, HB 4809, also on third reading for passage but parked the bill on its inactive calendar to make way for the Senate bill.

SB 668 raises the annual amount of over-the-counter purchase of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine (which all can be criminally diverted to make illegal methamphetamine) from 48 grams to 61.2 grams. Senators learned that the state Board of Pharmacy vetted and approved the increase.

The bill passed 23-10 and goes to the House. Locally, Caputo and Oliverio and Republicans Charles Clements and Randy Smith voted for it; Republican Jay Taylor voted against it; Republican Mike Maroney was absent. All the votes against were by Republicans.

The House

The raw milk bill was HB 4911, on second reading and open for amendment.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, offered one to strike this provision: “A person who sells raw milk shall be immune from suit and liability, for a claim for personal injury or other civil liability caused or arising out of, or relating to, an actual or alleged act, error, or omission that occurred.” This paragraph contained an exclusion for willful or wanton misconduct.

Pushkin called the section “blanket immunity from liability.”

Health chair Amy Summers, R-Taylor, objected, saying the paragraph isn’t “blanket,” it protects sellers from the costs and trouble of needless litigation over a product that is sold as-is without guarantees or warranties. Direct sourcing of agricultural products comes with the implied understanding of the risks.

Pushkin countered that sometimes food products can go, bad especially raw milk. He’s not aware of similar provisions for any other food products. “This amendment is about consumer protection.”

The amendment failed 18-71 and will be on third reading for passage on Monday.

HB 4867 requires porn websites to provide some form of digital identification or to comply with a commercial or governmental age verification system in order to keep people under age 18 from accessing its offerings. It passed 96-0 with no debate and goes to the Senate.

HB 5294 creates four classes of farm wineries based on production volume and allows them to buy, sell or trade fruits or products grown or produced on their farms. Lead sponsor Delegate Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson, said the bill will help make West Virginia farm wineries more competitive with those in other states, help preserve the beauty of the state by preserving farms and farmlands, and enhance economic development.

It passed 77-18 and goes to the Senate. All the votes against came from Republicans, including, locally, Buck Jennings, Phil Mallow and George Street.