|The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday had several bills on its agenda on the last day to move bills out of Committee to allow three full days of reading.
Chairman Charles Trump of Morgan County reminded Delegates who appeared before the Committee as lead sponsors of their House bills that Delegates have dozens and dozens of “great” Senate bills pending in the House.
Committee OKs bill banning treatment for gender dysphoria
The Senate Judiciary Committee quickly passed Committee Substitute for House Bill 2007 with no questions or discussion. The bill prohibits a physician from providing surgery or medication for anyone under the age of 18 for the purpose of gender reassignment or altering a gender.
There are exceptions for persons born with a medical disorder of sexual development or who do not have normal chromosome structure.
Before the bill came to Senate Judiciary Committee, a West Virginia University physician said there is no gender surgery available to anyone of any age in West Virginia, and it is actually very uncommon surgery. Dr. Kacie Kidd told members of the Senate Health Committee that treatment for those under 18 include counseling with their families and hormone therapy approved by both the parents and child.
The Senate Judiciary Committee adopted the amendment passed by the Senate Health Committee, setting the effective date of January 1, 2024, to reduce any harm that could occur when individuals under 18 must stop their hormone therapy.
Committee rejects bill raising marriage age of consent
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on House Bill 3018 from Delegate Kayla Young of Kanawha County, the bill’s lead sponsor The bill would establish 18 as the age of consent for marriage.
Counsel explained that current law allows those 16 and older to marry with parental consent, and there is no age floor if a judge orders the County Clerk to issue a marriage license.
Delegate Young told the Committee that West Virginia has the highest rate of child marriage at seven per 1,000 marriages. She provided additional data, saying there have been 753 marriages since 2012 involving children. Since 2000, there have been 3,600 marriages between one or more children in West Virginia
She noted that children cannot sign contracts, file for divorce, or sign leases, among other things that adults can do. She said the divorce rate of marriages that involve children is 80%.
After hearing from Delegate Young, Senator Patricia Rucker of Jefferson County moved to table the bill, a nondebatable motion. The motion failed with eight ayes, nine nays.
A demand for roll call was made on the vote for passage of the bill. The bill failed with eight in favor and nine opposed.
Bill defining minors passes after marital exemption rejected
The Senate Judiciary Committee had a lengthy discussion on a strike-and-insert amendment to House Bill 3190 before passing it. The bill defines a minor as a person less than or purported to be less than 18 years of age.
Any prosecution relating to a person purporting to be less than 18 years old is limited to investigations being conducted or overseen by law-enforcement officers.
The strike-and-insert amendment added the removal of the marital exemption to sexual assault. Senator Laura Wakim Chapman of Ohio County reminded Counsel that Subcommittee A voted against recommending a bill that removed the exemption.
Senator Michael Woelfel of Cabell County called for the previous question, a move to force a vote. The motion failed with eight in favor and nine against.
Senator Patricia Rucker of Jefferson County made a motion to remove the marital exemption section of the bill. The motion initiated much more discussion, and the amendment passed with nine voting for and eight against.
Senator Ryan Weld of Brooke County spoke against the amendment, saying, “We’re dealing with sexual abuse in the first degree.” He urged removal of the marital exemption to sexual abuse because it is about lack of consent that comes from forcible compulsion.
Senator Chapman responded, “There are plenty of laws out there already. This just opens the floodgates.”
Senator Woelfel said this is the ultimate policy debate if you believe the wife must submit to the husband.
“This is just a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Senator Woelfel said. He added that the policy is to not force the wife to submit to the will of the husband
“It’s the 21st century. Welcome aboard. It’s International Women’s Day,” Senator Woelfel said.
Lead sponsor Delegate Brandon Steele of Raleigh County told the Committee he had concerns that the marital exception addition to the House bill would be a divisive issue, although he expressed agreement with it.
Chairman Charles Trump of Morgan County left the chair to speak against the amendment.
“Today is Women’s Day. There seems to be a fear that there’d be an easy conviction for something that didn’t happen. There would have to be evidence and convincing a jury beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Senator Trump.
Senator Trump offered a hypothetical example that a woman could be sexually assaulted on her front porch by a stranger, and it would be felony sexual abuse in the first degree. In the same hypothetical, her husband from whom she was separated but not divorced could sexually assault her and walk into court and say, “I’m not guilty because we’re still married.
“This is a black eye on West Virginia. This Committee on Women’s Day would do something to protect women,” Senator Trump said. “We have time to fix this problem or at least make an effort. The women of West Virginia are worth this effort.”
Senator Mike Stuart of Kanawha County and Senator Vince Deeds of Greenbrier County spoke against the amendment, saying it needed to be done even at the risk of losing the bill. Senator Deeds said both children and women need to be protected.
“The two women that are in this committee are in favor of the amendment. I do not appreciate those who try to speak for me. This bill, if you read the title, is a very basic and important bill. This section (marital exception) does not fit,” said Senator Rucker, adding that this is trying to force one bill into another bill.
Bill prohibits sanctuary cities, counties in West Virginia
The Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped up a long day after 10 p.m. Wednesday with a lengthy discussion about two strike-and-insert amendments for Committee Substitute for House Bill 2008. It would require state entities, political subdivisions, and law-enforcement agencies to cooperate with the enforcement of immigration laws.
The first strike-and-insert amendment for Committee Substitute for HB2008 was rejected with seven in favor and nine against. That left the Committee Substitute as it came from the House of Delegates.
After the discussion and vote that rejected the strike-and-insert amendment, Chairman Charles Trump of Morgan County left the chair to offer another strike-and-insert amendment to the Committee Substitute that was adopted 9-7 after a lengthy discussion about consequences to county and city officials.
He said the House bill included defunding the police and local governments and the amendment removes that provision. Senator Trump said the harm shouldn’t be to citizens.
The other major change is eliminating cause of action suits.
“I don’t think it’s prudent or advisable to require city and county governments to have to defend and perhaps pay lawsuits because it’s ultimately the taxpayer who pays,” Chairman Trump said.
The bill would prohibit the state, local entity, or law-enforcement agency to adopt any law, ordinance, regulation, or policy that would result in restricting or prohibiting the enforcement of immigration laws.
Counsel pointed out that the bill is primarily a response to the threat of sanctuary cities that avoid enforcement and cooperation and refuse to report information about immigrants.
Senator Mike Caputo of Marion County questioned Counsel’s use of the word threat and asked if this was happening in West Virginia. Counsel responded that it is not.
“So it’s a solution without a problem,” Senator Caputo said.
Senator Caputo voiced objection to telling municipalities not only can they not do something they want to do, they can be thrown out of office for doing it.
Delegate Todd Longanacre of Greenbrier County, lead sponsor, said the bill came from meetings with the Attorney General and that sanctuary is happening in West Virginia. He said the bill would nip it in the bud.
There have been instances where a city or mayor has announced, “Come one, come all,” Delegate Longanacre said.
”We do not want municipalities to openly declare themselves a sanctuary city. We do not have a southern border and haven’t had one for two years. We do not have a northern border. They’re getting bused all over the U.S.,” said Delegate Longanacre. “This bill wants to encourage legal immigration, just as my wife did,” he added.
Senator Caputo took objection to the statement that the U.S. hasn’t had a southern border for two years. Chairman Trump told the committee to stick to the focus of the bill.
Delegate Longanacre said the Committee Substitute didn’t have the teeth that the original bill had but that it was a start and better than nothing.
Speaking against the bill, Senator Caputo said, “Now we don’t have a problem, and we are trying to fix a problem we don’t even have.”