CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Laws to restrict abortion access and the way educators teach race in public schools were overwhelmingly passed by the Republican supermajority in the West Virginia legislature Saturday during the final minutes of the 2022 session.
The abortion bill would bar parents from seeking abortion care because they believe their child will be born with a disability. It provides exemptions in the case of a medical emergency or in cases where a fetus is “nonmedically viable.”
“This is about science and morality,” said Republican Del. Kayla Kessinger, speaking in support of the bill. “It’s about, ‘When does life begin?’ and whether or not it has a value.”
Democratic Del. Evan Hansen said the bill does nothing substantial to help people with disabilities and their families.
A physician who violates the law could see their license to practice medicine suspended or revoked.
Meanwhile, the “Anti-Racism Act of 2022” prevents what supporters describe as discrimination based on race as well as the teaching in public K-12 schools that one race is “inherently, morally, or intellectually superior to another.” Teachers would also be barred from telling students that one race “is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
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The education bill states that students can’t be taught that a person’s moral character is determined by their race, or that a person by virtue of their race “bears responsibility for actions committed by other members of the same race.”
Both bills now head to the desk of Republican Gov. Jim Justice.
Legislators convened in a snowy state Capitol on Saturday with dozens of bills to finalize. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw arrived late to a debate on the state budget bill because he was delayed by a car accident on the roads, which were still being cleared.
Additionally, lawmakers passed a bill Saturday decriminalizing fentanyl test strips, which can signal the presence of fentanyl in illicit drugs.
Other bills were passed to repeal the state’s soda tax and to ban the requiring of COVID-19 vaccination cards to enter state agencies or public colleges and universities.
The abortion bill, which had passed the Senate this month, was greenlit by the House earlier Saturday, but the Senate waited until just before midnight to concur with House changes to the bill. In a span of five minutes before the clock ran out on the session, the Senate also concurred on the Anti-Racism Act of 2022, which passed the House Friday night following 2 1/2 hours of tense debate.
The bill creates a mechanism for the reporting of complaints and for data to be collected by the Legislature on the number of substantiated complaints each year.
During an hour-and-a-half debate Saturday on the bill dealing with disabilities and abortion, several Democrats voiced opposition. The bill requires physicians to submit a report to the state for each abortion they perform and whether “the presence or presumed presence of any disability in the unborn human being had been detected.”
“This is an attempt to use people with disabilities as props for an anti-abortion agenda, something that the disability community has not asked for, as far as I know, and that’s just wrong,” Hansen said.
“This ban doesn’t make our state a better place for any child with a disability,” he continued. “But what it does do is it creates government overreach into personal family medical decisions.”
The report would need to include the date of the abortion and the method used, and also confirm that the doctor asked the patient whether an abortion was being chosen because the baby might have a disability.
The reports would have to be submitted within 15 days of each abortion, according to the bill. Patients’ names must be omitted.
The bill was not the only abortion-related bill advanced by the Republican majority. In the final days of the session, lawmakers also rushed to bring up legislation banning abortions after 15 weeks, but it died on the Senate calendar Saturday after lawmakers declined to take it up.
After two hours of discussion on the House floor Saturday, lawmakers voted 90-9 to send a $4.635 billion budget to the governor’s desk.
The bill includes 5% pay raises for state employees and teachers, with an additional bump for state troopers. The budget does not include the 10% personal income tax cut passed by the House last month. The House and Senate could not come to an agreement on how to incorporate the cuts into the bill.
Lawmakers also promised that social workers in the state’s foster care system will see a 15% pay raise. After a bill to provide the increases was essentially gutted, they advised the Department of Health and Human Resources to collapse open positions to provide the raises instead.
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