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WV Judge to hear effort to force special legislative session and stop the state’s COVID-19 school re-entry plans

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – A Kanawha County Circuit Judge has set a hearing date for a challenge to West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s refusal to call a special legislation and to stop the state’s school re-entry plan.

Wednesday Judge Tod J. Kaufman set a hearing date for 8:00 a.m. on September 25th on the petition filed by Alex McLaughlin.

The suit names Justice and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and asks the judge to compel the Governor “to convene the Legislature to pass laws for the purpose of insuring the continuity of governmental operations during the emergency occasioned by COVID-19…”.

The suit also seeks to stop the state from enforcing the School Re-entry Metrics and Protocols program announced by the governor on August 14th.

McLaughlin asserts the program “…unconstitutionally discriminates against students and their parents in the right to education and ‘free schools’ by singling out school buildings for closure ..without regard to their ability to comply with facially neutral requirements for masking, social distancing, and basic hygiene protocols that apply to other forms of indoor assembly.”

In issuing his order, Kaufman said each side will have 20 minutes for argument and 15 minutes to rebut the other side’s arguments.

The suit comes on the heels of other calls, these by state legislators, for a special session. In July Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton (D-Kanawha) was among those calling for a special session so lawmakers, not the governor, could determine how the states $1.25 billion dollars in federal CARES Act money would be spent. “Our governor is not responsible for spending $1.25 billion dollars alone,” she told 13 News on July 30th.

Other lawmakers, like Delegate Josh Higginbotham (R-Putnam), want the legislature to consider some type of legal protection for businesses and school districts.

“Very frivolous lawsuits where somebody catches the Coronavirus and they may not even know how they got it,” he told 13 News. “They could sue the teachers, or they could sue the school, of the university here at West Virginia State. People can sue!”

On that point, 22 other states have passed lawsuit liability protections due to COVID-19.

Justice, for his part, has repeatedly said during his COVID-19 briefings that he sees no need for a special legislative session.

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