The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee got to work Tuesday and Wednesday, passing along two bills similar to bills already passed by the House Health Committee.
Senate Bill 12, passed by the Senate committee Tuesday, checks the power of county boards of health by requiring a public comment period on new or amended rules and requiring county commissions and other board of health-appointing agencies to approve the rule before it is implemented.
It is similar to House Bill 2015.
SB 12 requires boards of health to post new rules on the State Register and their website and requires a public comment period. The rule and any public comments must be submitted to the county commission and other appointing agency within 30 days. Other appointing agencies include city councils, which appoint members to joint health departments like the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.
The bill would permit the appointing agencies to approve or disapprove all or parts of a rule. Any part disapproved must include a reason why and the board of health can resubmit the rule.
If there is a public health emergency, the rule can immediately go into effect, but the appointing agencies still must approve or disapprove the rule within 30 days.
The bill also requires one member of the appointing agencies serve on the board of health as a nonvoting member. Currently, appointing agency members can serve on boards of health if they choose to.
SB 12 passed Tuesday night after a brief caucus by the Republican Party following one member of the party expressing he wasn’t sure he could vote for the bill.
Two county commissioners — one from Mercer County and the other from Wood County — testified to the committee they did not support the bill.
“In my 20 years of dealing with public health, West Virginia has cut funding and asked us to do more with less,” said Greg Puckett, Mercer County commissioner. “We consistently rank in the bottom of every major health statistic, and as been evident by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are understaffed and underfunded by our lack of long-term support. … This is why I am increasingly perplexed why the Legislature is, during a time when we should be focusing on protections for our public, focusing on bills like Senate Bill 12 that would inevitably, possibly, roll back health and safety measures locally.”
Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, a physician, said he was strongly against the bill. Freshman Sen. David Stover, R-Wyoming, said he was moved by Stollings’ remarks and wasn’t sure how he would vote, which prompted the caucus.
SB 12 was scheduled for first reading on the Senate floor Thursday. The House bill has not yet been read for a first time as delegates await the Senate decision.
After lying the bill over one day, the committee also passed along Senate Bill 1, which would codify a pandemic executive order by Gov. Jim Justice that suspended the regulation requiring telemedicine doctors be licensed in the state.
Like House Bill 2004, SB 1 would permit licensed out-of-state medical professionals to meet with West Virginia patients via telehealth as long as they register with the state and are in good standing.
As amended by the committee, the bill would also require the Public Employees Insurance Agency and other insurance companies provide the same reimbursement for a telehealth appointment as an in-person appointment. Patients will be required to have one in-person visit with a physician within the year after a telehealth appointment.
The committee produced two committee substitutes in two days. Amendments include permitting audio-only appointments after hearing concerns some patients, particularly the elderly, do not have access to visual telecommunications. Broadband capabilities in parts of the state also limit visual abilities. Another amendment requires the telehealth doctor to send the patient’s record to their primary care physician if there is one.