Cops and Courts, Education, Elections, Healthcare, West Virginia Legislature

Senate passes slate of House bills: swatting, sour grapes candidates and more

MORGANTOWN – The Senate cruised through a slate of House bills on Monday, passing them all unanimously without debate. A couple head to the governor; others were amended and returned to the House for review and possible concurrence – or negotiation.

HB 4667 would prohibit syringe service programs from distributing “any smoking devices, including but not limited to, hand pipes, bubblers, bongs, dab rigs, hookahs, crack pipes, or disposable smoking devices.” It passed the House 88-12 on Feb. 27. The Senate approved it without amendment, and it heads to the governor.

HB 4845 is the swatting bill, referring to filing a false emergency report with police, fire or EMS. The name derives from SWAT teams being called out to bogus emergencies.

Current law makes swatting a misdemeanor. The bill makes second and subsequent offenses felonies. It makes causing injury as a result of a swat call a felony. And it says the court may order the convicted offender to reimburse the agency for cost of the response. It returns to the House for amendment concurrence.

HB 5237 is the House version of SB 441. Both forbid driving in the left lane of a multi-lane highway, with various exceptions.

The Senate passed its bill on Feb. 9, but the House killed it on third reading on Feb. 15 in a 46-48 vote, with six members absent.

It then took up its version, which makes the offense secondary instead of primary – meaning a driver couldn’t get pulled over for driving too slow in the left lane; they’d have to get pulled over for something else and have to slow driving offense tacked on to the ticket.

So the Senate essentially amended its bill back into the House bill – restoring the offense to primary. It passed 34-0 and returns to the House for amendment concurrence.

HB 5298 prohibits a candidate belonging to one of the four recognized political parties — Republican, Democrat, Libertarian and Mountain — who loses a primary election from becoming a candidate for one of the other recognized parties for the following general election.

Existing sore-loser/sour-grapes law prohibits a failed primary candidate to get on the general election ballot as an independent and this bill fills a loophole. The House version was a single sentence. The Senate tweaked that sentence and added one making the bill effective Jan. 1, 2025, after the current election. It returns to the House.

HB 5650 says a suspended school employee may not be barred from attending public events on school property while serving the suspension. And the employee who has a dependent child, grandchild, foster child, or other family member may not be barred from entering the school to exercise normal functions of a parent or guardian. It contains exceptions regarding the employee’s presence jeopardizing the health, safety, or welfare of others; impacting the learning environment or the activity; prejudice an investigation or disciplinary proceeding; violating a court order; or threatening damage to property.

It also returns to the House.

HB 5690 came out of the new House Artificial Intelligence Committee and creates an AI task force in the governor’s office. Among its jobs, it would designate a relevant agency to oversee AI policy and develop best practices for the public sector use of artificial intelligence. It goes to the governor.