Politics

W. Virginia Senate blows deadline to pass teaching race bill

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Legislature’s Republican supermajority failed to pass a controversial bill restricting how race is taught in public schools because they missed a midnight deadline in the final moments of the 2022 session, a state Senate spokesperson confirmed early Sunday.

Lawmakers had spent weeks during the legislative session debating and advancing proposed bills similar to the “Anti-Racism Act of 2022.” It wasn’t immediately clear why Republicans waited until late Saturday to take the final vote. The act had passed the Senate and House overwhelmingly, and the late-night vote was merely to greenlight the House’s version.

“We took the vote, but essentially that didn’t matter because it didn’t make deadline,” Senate spokesperson Jacque Bland told The Associated Press in an email early Sunday. She said the education bill has no path forward to becoming law.

A separate bill restricting abortion access did pass just minutes before midnight. It bars parents from seeking abortion care because they believe their child will be born with a disability. It provides exemptions in the case of a medical emergency or in cases where a fetus is “nonmedically viable.”

GOP lawmakers appeared unhurried as the clock ticked down Saturday, spending about an hour passing resolutions honoring two outgoing senators.

Supporters of the Anti-Racism Act of 2022 said it aims to prevent discrimination based on race in K-12 public schools, banning teachers from telling students that one race “is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The bill said students can’t be taught a person’s moral character is determined by their race, or that a person by virtue of their race “bears responsibility for actions committed by other members of the same race.”

It would have created a mechanism for reporting complaints and for the Legislature to collect data on how many complaints are substantiated each year. The law didn’t specify punishment.

Legislators convened at the snowy state Capitol on Saturday with dozens of bills to finalize. GOP House Speaker Roger Hanshaw arrived late to a debate on the state budget bill because he was delayed by a car accident on the roads, which were still being cleared.

The bill dealing with disabilities and abortion was passed just minutes before midnight, following 90 minutes of discussion. It now moves to the desk of Republican Gov. Jim Justice.

“This is about science and morality,” said Republican Del. Kayla Kessinger in support of the bill. “It’s about, ‘When does life begin?’ and whether or not it has a value.”

Democrats voiced their opposition, with Del. Evan Hansen saying the bill does nothing substantial to help people with disabilities and their families.

“This is an attempt to use people with disabilities as props for an anti-abortion agenda, something that the disability community has not asked for, as far as I know — and that’s just wrong,” Hansen said. “It creates government overreach into personal family medical decisions.”

A physician who violates the law could see their license to practice medicine suspended or revoked.

The bill also requires physicians to submit a report — with patients’ names omitted — to the state for each abortion they perform and whether “the presence or presumed presence of any disability in the unborn human being had been detected.”

The reports would include the date of the abortion and the method used, as well as confirming the doctor asked the patient if they chose an abortion because the baby might have a disability. These reports must be submitted within 15 days of each abortion.

That bill wasn’t the only abortion-related legislation brought forward by the state’s Republican supermajority in recent weeks , however lawmakers declined Saturday to take up a second bill banning abortions after 15 weeks, and it wasn’t passed.

Additionally, lawmakers voted 90-9 to send a $4.635 billion budget to the governor’s desk after two hours of discussion on the House floor Saturday.

The bill includes 5% pay raises for state employees and teachers, with an additional bump for state troopers. The budget does not include the 10% personal income tax cut passed by the House last month. The House and Senate could not come to an agreement on how to incorporate the cuts into the bill.

Lawmakers also promised that social workers in the state’s foster care system will see a 15% pay raise. After a bill to provide the increases was essentially gutted, they advised the Department of Health and Human Resources to provide the raises by instead eliminating open positions.

Additionally, lawmakers passed a bill decriminalizing fentanyl test strips, which can signal the presence of synthetic opioid in illicit drugs.

Other bills repealed the state’s soda tax, and banned requiring COVID-19 vaccination cards to enter state agencies or public colleges and universities.

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