The dust has finally settled on West Virginia’s 2021 regular legislative session.
Though the session ended April 10, April 28 was the last day Gov. Jim Justice could sign or veto bills. Otherwise, under the state constitution, they would automatically become law without his signature.
Justice only ultimately declined to sign two bills this session, but he let both automatically become law. He vetoed only one bill, but with enough time left in the session for lawmakers to amend it and send it back to him. He signed the changed version.
Here are five education-related bills the Gazette-Mail reported on earlier, and that Justice has since signed into law:
Senate Bill 307: In-state tuition for military — Currently, active members of the National Guard participating in the National Guard education services program can only be charged in-state tuition rates by state colleges and universities, even if they’re not technically West Virginia residents.
Under this new law, effective for semesters beginning after July 5, in-state tuition rates will be expanded to all current U.S. military members who live in West Virginia, including the reserves, and including National Guard members who aren’t in the education services program. That includes the GI Bill.
National Guard members will still have to be in active status to qualify.
Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, was the lead sponsor. The Senate passed it unanimously. The House passed it 97-2. Delegates Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, and George Miller, R-Morgan, voted no, while Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, was absent.
Senate Bill 335: Free community college fees, not just tuition — Effective July 1, West Virginia’s free community college tuition program will make not just tuition free for students, but also all mandatory fees and academic program fees.
Many colleges make distinctions between tuition; fees charged to all students; and fees that students are only charged if they’re in a particular program, like fees for equipment for a nursing program.
The law will also require all academic program fees charged atop tuition to be approved by the statewide community college oversight and policy board, if colleges want that program to be part of the free tuition and fees program. The program is called West Virginia Invests.
The Senate passed this bill unanimously, while the House passed it 95-3. The nos were from Delegates Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer; Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam; and Shannon Kimes, R-Wood. Delegates Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, and Josh Booth, R-Wayne, were absent.
Senate Bill 636: Little effect, formerly required personal finance course — The House at one point approved an amendment to this bill. The change would have required that public school students complete a personal finance course to graduate high school.
The amendment didn’t make it into the final version of the law. The amendment had said the personal finance requirement would have been “in place of existing economics coursework requirements.”
Also, the amendment would’ve required students to learn about the “treatment and contributions of historic minorities, including but not limited to African Americans, Native Americans and women.”
Current public school standards already generally require learning about personal finance. And several current standards on women and minorities include one in high school to “analyze the characteristics of cultural contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics and all immigrants.”
The Senate rejected the amendment in a voice vote.
The House agreed to retract its amendment in a 58-37 vote, with five delegates absent.
All 23 House Democrats voted against backing down, and 14 Republicans joined them.
The version that has become law will require public and private schools to learn about civics and government topics that, at least in public schools, they are already required to learn.
House Bill 2791: Guaranteed private-, home-school student access to vocational schools — Effective July 4, private- and home-schooled students will be guaranteed access to county school systems’ K-12 vocational schools, as long as “capacity allows.”
These non-public students also can’t be charged more than what public school students pay to attend these vocational schools, which is currently nothing.
The House passed this 96-2, with Delegates Dana Ferrell, R-Kanawha, and Charlie Reynolds, R-Marshall, voting no. Absent were Delegates Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, and Kayla Young, D-Kanawha.
The Senate passed it unanimously.
House Bill 2906: Allowing more money for vocational centers, deaf, blind schools — The state School Building Authority currently grants construction and major renovation funding not just to county school systems, but to K-12 vocational schools that serve multiple counties and specialized schools that serve the whole state.
These include, among others, the Fred W. Eberle Technical Center in Buckhannon and the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind in Romney.
Ben Ashley, architectural services director for the School Building Authority, said that currently, the agency can give only up to 3% of its annual grants to these multi-county and statewide service area schools.
Under this law, effective July 5, the agency will be able to give up to 10%.
House Education Committee Vice Chairman Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, was the lead sponsor of the bill.
The Senate passed it unanimously, and the House’s final passage vote was 90-10. Voting no were Delegates Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson; Mark Dean, R-Mingo; Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer; Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas; Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam; Shannon Kimes, R-Wood; Margitta Mazzocchi, R-Logan; Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock; George Miller, R-Morgan; and Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming.