Several bills passed prior to session’s end
Senators Back Minimum Wage Hike of $1.50
CHARLESTON (AP) – The West Virginia Senate has passed a bill to raise the minimum wage by $1.50 over three years.
Under the bill passed Friday, the wage would increase from $7.25 to $7.50 an hour in January 2015, to $8 in January 2016, and to $8.75 in January 2017. Originally the House approved a wage increase of 75 cents each year for two years.
The Senate Finance Committee extended the phase-in for the increase Wednesday.
At that time, Sen. John Unger expressed concern that minimum wage workers will lose out on $1,040 in potential earnings in 2015 and an additional $520 in 2016.
The House must now agree to the Senate changes before the bill goes to the governor.
SENATE OKS DRILLING WASTE IN LANDFILLS
A bill allowing drill cuttings from horizontal wells to be discarded in commercial solid waste facilities passed unanimously Friday in the Senate.
The bill states that the drillings must be contained in separate, lined cells. Drilling companies will be charged $1 per ton to fund Department of Environmental Protection studies on the viability of using existing landfills for cuttings. The bill also sets aside $75,000 for a scientific study on the leeching of these cells, said Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson.
Snyder said it’s important to pass this bill to govern how drillings are handled because there are currently few regulations.
The Horizontal Well Act of 2012 states that cuttings must be disposed of on drilling sites with the authorization of property owners and the DEP or be taken to the landfill, he said.
Although the act did not set down regulations on landfills accepting this waste, the DEP has already been monitoring the refuse.
Snyder said the bill approved Friday instructs landfills to install monitors to measure radioactivity.
“The DEP states this is a must to know these are safe,” he said. “Horizontal drilling is the future of our state and this is a very necessary bill. It was put together in the most environmentally friendly way we can.”
Earlier this week the Senate amended the bill to exclude some landfills on the eastern most side of this state from accepting drilling waste because of the presence of porous limestone rock beneath the landfills.
The bill does not force landfills to accept these drillings.
Changes made to the bill must be approved by the House before it is sent to the governor.
DELEGATES VOTE FOR PLANNING PERIODS
The House of Delegates has passed a bill aimed at protecting teacher planning periods in West Virginia.
The bill allows teachers to decide how to use their allotted planning time and prevents administrators from forcing them to attend meetings or perform other duties, including parent-teacher conferences.
Delegate Paul Espinosa expressed concern that meeting planning period requirements for teachers would cost money county boards can’t afford. He said he wonders whether the bill is simply an unfunded mandate.
Delegate Mary Poling said the bill does make schools comply with current law, but that good teacher planning is worth a very small percentage of county budgets.
Changes made to the bill must be approved by the Senate before it is passed to the governor.
CHANGES TO RAPE EVIDENCE BILL REJECTED
The House of Delegates has rejected changes the Senate made to a bill to regulate and improve the training of nurses who collect forensic evidence in sexual assault cases.
The bill will now go to conference or will be dropped completely.
The original bill creates a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Commission to regulate these specially trained registered nurses at the local and state levels. On Thursday, the House decided Senate changes move power away from local examination boards, a critical part of the measure.
The bill aims to address inadequacies in the collection of evidence in sexual assault cases.
The bill’s sponsor, Del. Barbara Fleischauer, has said the State Forensics Lab estimates up to 75 percent of rape kits have collection or documentation errors.
‘COUNTRY ROADS’ ADDED TO LIST OF STATE SONGS
Singer John Denver never called West Virginia home, but his 1970s hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is one of the state’s official songs.
Forty-three years after it first hit the airwaves with the words “Almost Heaven, West Virginia,” the Legislature approved a resolution Friday designating it as one of four state songs.
The song has resonated with residents for decades. It’s played after every West Virginia University basketball and football game. Denver sang it in person at the dedication of Mountaineer Field in Morgantown in 1980.
The state song effort was started two years ago by the widow of “Gilligan’s Island” actor Bob Denver, who is no relation.
A Bluefield native, Dreama Denver said she got the idea after playing the song on her morning radio show in Princeton and a caller wanted to know if it was an official state song.
After doing some research, she learned it wasn’t. She contacted Raleigh County Delegate Marty Gearhart, who got the ball rolling at last year’s regular session. The resolution passed the House of Delegates in 2013 but never made it through the Senate.
This year, it did.
“My heart has been pounding all day,” Dreama Denver said.
She said she’s heard countless stories about the song from residents, including a man who recently told her, “This is not a song. It’s an anthem.”
“The entire world knows us with this song,” she said.
West Virginia has three other official state songs: “West Virginia Hills,” “This Is My West Virginia” and “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home.”