WV Senate passes minimum wage bill, advances 'water bill' - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV Senate passes minimum wage bill, advances 'water bill'

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Members of the West Virginia Senate on March 7 sent their version of a bill made in response to a chemical leak in Charleston Jan. 9 back to the House of Delegates for consideration.

Senate Bill 373 would regulate above-ground storage tanks and, according to Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, would protect the state's water resources.

On March 7, the second-to-last day of the regular legislative session, Unger amended the bill by adding in a section the House had previously removed.

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, had amended the bill to remove registration fees for tanks that hold chemicals for the oil and gas industry.

Unger said he didn't agree with the amendment because he didn't want to exclude any industry, but rather treat them all the same.

"They need to be registered, regulated and inspected," Unger said. "We need to know what's out there so we have a list of everything."

Without funding through the registration fees, the Department of Environmental Protection wouldn't have been able to get inspectors, Unger explained.

The Senate had added to above-ground storage tank inspections and water protection plans to the measure as well.

"They expanded on those plans," Unger said of the House changes to the proposal. "If you want to look at a bill that truly works the way I think the founders intended for it to go through our legislative process, I think Senate Bill 373 comes closest to any I've ever seen since I've been here."

Unger said he agreed with the House's decision to expand the scope of the bill's focus on public health by looking into a medical study of the 300,000 residents who were affected by the leak of crude MCHM in the Elk River.

The Senate, on March 7, also passed House Bill 4283 with some changes, so if it is accepted by the House, would increase the minimum wage by $1.75 over a 3-year period.

The House would have to concur with the Senate's changes to gradually increase wages, an amendment the Senate adopted March 5 after the bill came out of the Senate Finance committee.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, attempted to amend House Bill 4588, the abortion/fetal pain bill on March 7.

Palumbo said his amendment would have changed the terms of a woman seeking an abortion from the current 20 weeks to 22 weeks.

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, spoke about the bill.

"I'm often reminded, and often hear us in debates on different issues where people want to point out ‘we have to follow the constitution,'" Wells said. "So why is it that we're not willing to infringe on the constitutional rights of free speech?

"I'm not a constitutional scholar, I'm not even a lawyer, but I'm somebody who realizes the law is far more important. It is amazing to me that in our day and age we will protect the rights of freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, but, boy, so quickly are we willing to trample the constitutional rights of women in West Virginia."

Wells said he knew the amendment probably wouldn't be adopted, but he couldn't stay silent.

Sens. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, and Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, also spoke about the bill.

Barnes said he values his religion and what the Bible says over all else, while Snyder said it was a tough decision but in the end he would have to vote for life.

The bill advanced to third reading in the Senate for the last day of the regular session with the original 20-week provision.

The measure will be up for a full vote during the floor session March 8, before it can complete the legislative process and be sent to the governor.

Also on March 7, "Take Me Home Country Roads" by John Denver was adopted as the state's official song.