W.Va. lawmakers scramble as deadline looms

CHARLESTON (AP) – With a midnight deadline looming, West Virginia lawmakers scrambled Saturday to give teachers raises, agree how to combat methamphetamine labs and impose a controversial abortion ban.

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel has a deadline of 11 p.m. on Saturdays, so some legislative bills were still being debated and voted on as the newspaper went to press.

The 60-day lawmaking session had centered on a Jan. 9 chemical spill into the water supply that affected 300,000 people. But there was little late night drama during a 10 p.m. House of Delegates unanimous vote to send the bill to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

The House and Senate were already largely in agreement on the bill by Friday night.

Lawmakers spent most of the session painstakingly crafting a bill to safeguard water systems and above-ground storage tanks. The House needed to agree on one last tweak to wrap up work on that proposal. The final product adds inspections for many storage tanks, requires more safety planning for water systems and includes long-term health monitoring for people exposed to the little known chemicals that spilled.

Both chambers did agree on a bill letting people with concealed-carry permits bring guns to city-owned recreational facilities, including swimming pools and after-school centers. The proposal would require people to store guns securely out of view and access to others.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones called the bill “disgraceful.” He said it would threaten the safety of children. Tomblin expressed some concerns over the bill, but said he’s still reviewing it.

“There seemed to be a little bit of overlap about where you could or could not carry a gun,” Tomblin said.

Packs of six or so lawmakers crammed into hallways, corners and backs of the chambers to strike deals on other top issues, like limiting access to some cold medicines that could be used to produce methamphetamine. The House version would cut in half how much Sudafed-like medication someone can buy in a year. It also would let counties set up referendums to make pseudoephedrine drugs prescription-only locally.

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, supported making the drugs prescription-only statewide. Both Kessler and Tomblin criticized taking a piecemeal approach to a prescription requirement.

“It’d be very difficult, I think to police,” Tomblin said.

Plenty more issues were still looming as the deadline approached. The House and Senate still weren’t on the same page about how much to raise the minimum wage and raises for teachers.

Tomblin said the state can live with the $1,000 pay increase endorsed by the House, but he and the Senate proposed a smaller raise.

After the Senate’s approval, the House only needs to agree on slight changes to an abortion ban after 20 weeks gestation. The bill to prohibit abortions later than 20 weeks after conception passed the House Saturday night and will be sent to the governor to sign into law.

On Saturday, the House passed the bill 85-15 with two delegates not voting. House Speaker Tim Miley denied requests to talk about the bill. The Democrat from Harrison said lawmakers had too many bills to get through.

Earlier this week, Council to the Judiciary Committee said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled similar 20-week regulations unconstitutional. Typically abortion limitations center around fetal viability, which is typically considered at 24 weeks

Tomblin said he concerns over that bill, too. A court struck down a similar law in Arizona, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

A hodgepodge of other interests were still fighting to keep their bills alive. The Greenbrier resort succeeded in a last-minute push for millions of dollars in tax credits for a new medical facility. Tomblin said he will review the bill, but commented that “the concept of having that kind of service is a great thing.” The proposal did not arise formally until a Friday committee meeting.

A proposal to let West Virginia University offer wine at its sporting events was also still floating around.

Tomblin has 15 days from when lawmakers send him a bill to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his action.

Lawmakers won’t be out of the Capitol for long. Next week, the House and Senate will negotiate a compromised budget for the upcoming year.