Education, Elections, West Virginia Legislature

House Judiciary advances U.S. motto, indecent exposure, sexual contact with minors, voter registration bills to House floor

MORGANTOWN – The House Judiciary Committee moved four Senate bills to the House floor on Thursday – and all are on first reading on the House floor on Friday. They deal with the U.S. motto, indecent exposure, sexual contact with minors and driver’s license photos for voter registration.

The U.S. motto bill is SB 152, to require display of posters or framed copies of the U.S. motto in schools and state higher education institutions. It underwent two rewrites in the Senate and a third in House Education and a fourth in Judiciary.

The latest version requires the poster or framed copy to be displayed in every classroom in every public school – including charters – and every state higher education institution. An image of the U.S. flag must appear under the motto. It removed a size specification from prior versions. The pictures may be donated, and the school may accept and use private donations.

Delegates raised several concerns. One was the cost. Previous versions mandated that the pictures be donated or bought with private funds. This version makes the donation optional, meaning a school may have to pay for them for hundreds of classrooms.

Delegate Sean Fluharty said the bill may prove unconstitutional because it forces a captive audience – students in classrooms – to see it.

Delegate Andy Shamblin, R-Kanawha, teaches at Nitro High and said the county may have to buy thousands of posters. “I think every classroom is excessive.”

Delegate David Kelly, R-Tyler, said he supported the bill but had reservations. “Sometimes we lose ourselves behind mottoes and we hide behind things. Its’ not what we have on our wall about God that’s going to make a difference in anyone’s lives, it’s how we live. … I think we need to live it before we start putting it on every wall in a classroom.”

SB 160 is the indecent exposure bill. As it came from the Senate it updates the definitions of indecent exposure and increases the penalties and creates a felony for indecent exposure to a minor under 16.

Judiciary spent an hour debating a committee rewrite and an additional amendment, only to find the changes muddied the bill too much. At one point, Rick Hillenbrand, R-Hampshire, said, “We are in a hole so deep we need a bigger shovel.”

So they returned to the Senate version with just one change, restoring an exemption for breastfeeding. They thought that the line was probably unnecessary given the new definitions but decided to be cautious for the sake of judges adjudicating the crime.

SB 504 updates state code that says any teacher, principal, counselor, coach, other employee, volunteer of any private or public elementary or secondary school who has sexual contact with a student at the school, if convicted, is guilty of a felony. The bill adds school resource officers to the list and broadens the scope to include a student at any school – not just the school the employee works at.

The bill exempts any student enrolled in a secondary school and engaged in a wage-earning registered youth apprenticeship program as part of the Grow Your Own teacher pathway. Judiciary added a second exemption for students under 18 in secondary school in a career, technical education or school service personnel training program.

SB 623 would require the Division of Motor Vehicles to send driver’s license or photo ID images, for those who register to vote at the DMV, to the secretary of state’s office. The DMV already sends images of voter signatures to the office, which are sent out to the county clerks.

The committee adopted an amendment offered by Delegate Chris Pritt, R-Kanawha, prohibiting the DMV from forwarding pictures of non-citizens who get driver’s licenses.

A spokesman for the secretary of state’s office suggested the amendment may be redundant, since non-citizens can’t register to vote anyway, but the committee adopted it anyway in a divided voice vote.