For the week ending Jan. 27, 2023

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates took steps this week to improve the state’s foster care system and to help high school students advance with career pathways.

 House Bill 3061 would update the authority of the state’s Foster Care Ombudsman, adding a duty to thoroughly investigate and resolve reported allegations of abuse and neglect, a child who has died, a sustained critical incident or a child in the juvenile justice system.

 “We think this is a measured approach we can take as a Legislature to help the children who are in foster care by improving one system that’s within the system,” said House Health and Human Resources Committee Vice Chair Heather Tully, R-Nicholas, who sponsored the bill with House Health and Human Resources Committee Chair Amy Summers, R-Taylor.

 The bill would protect the Ombudsman from being forced to testify in any court proceeding that involves the Ombudsman’s official duties. It would provide confidentiality during an investigation if the Ombudsman receives information of an imminent risk of serious harm. The bill also would shield the Foster Care Ombudsman from any prohibition against releasing its recommendations to the governor’s office and the Legislature. The measure was read a first time on the House floor Friday, Jan. 27.

 A bill that would create a dual enrollment pilot program advanced from the House Education Committee this week. Under House Bill 2005, the four-year pilot would fund higher education institutions that offer dual-enrollment courses to the state’s secondary school students that help lead them to careers or continued education in certain designated career pathways, such as direct health care, education, agriculture, construction, information technology and STEM, among others. The program would operate under the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the Council for Community and Technical College Education in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Education. The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee for consideration.

House Bill 2113, which would increase the criminal sentencing penalties for a parent, guardian or custodian for child abuse resulting in injury and child abuse or neglect creating a risk of injury unanimously passed the House Jan. 26. No fines would change as a result of the bill, but a prior child abuse conviction also would result in an increased penalty.

 A bill clarifying the authority and obligations of the executive branch during a state of emergency was sent back to the Senate after a near-unanimous vote out of the House Jan. 24. The limit on the duration of a state of preparedness or state of emergency was trimmed in the House from 90 to 60 days. Only three members voted against the measure, Senate Bill 128.

 A total of 1,122 House bills have been introduced as of Jan. 27, and 19 of those have passed the House. The 60-day, regular legislative session ends at midnight March 11.