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State Senators approve moving state Culture and History curator to cabinet secretary

Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate enthusiastically passed a bill on Wednesday to elevate the state Culture and History curator to cabinet secretary. It also moved bills concerning abortion, pregnancy, zoning and more.

Randall Reid-Smith is the longtime curator of the Department of Culture and History. SB 790 is a bill from the governor proposing to change his title to secretary. It doesn’t change the salary for the position.

The bill was introduced Wednesday and senators agreed to suspend the rules to read it three times and pass it the same day.

Numerous senators rose to praise Reid-Smith for his work, starting with Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha. Reid-Smith oversees a host of programs and activities, he said, including the Golden Horseshoe award, the state History Bowl and grants to fairs and festivals.

“He’s just an absolutely fine advocate for people learning, loving and wanting to come to the state of West Virginia.”

Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said it’s an honor that should have been conveyed long ago. “I couldn’t think of a person that deserves it any more. We couldn’t have a greater advocate for West Virginia.”

There were some jokes along the way and when the roll call vote began all 34 names glowed red for a bit before switching to green. It passed 34-0 and goes to the House.

SB 352 amends the Unborn Child Protection Act to require voluntary informed consent for a mother seeking an abortion for these issues: medical risks of the procedure and carrying to term; an opportunity to view an ultrasound; the probable gestational age of the embryo or fetus; perinatal hospice services for a nonviable embryo or fetus; and risks and possible reversal of a chemical abortion.

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, read a letter from Morgantown doctor who opposes the bill. The doctor, whom Caputo didn’t have permission to name, said the bill narrows the already narrow exceptions to state abortion law and demeans and denigrates providers and pateints.

“This bill is not just embarrassing it is dangerous and far outside the mainstreamof medicine,” the doctor wrote. True pro-life policy should focus on maternity care deserts, maternity mortality, family planning and child care.

Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson and lead sponsor, said the bill doesn’t s expand current law, increase penalties or change current prohibitions. It makes certain the woman has all the information she should have in making her decision, delivered in the easiest way possible for her

“This is a decision affecting life and death,” she said, and and will impact her life after her decision. The woman has a right to the information. “I think that this is a very simple and crucial and important piece of legislation.”

It passed 32-1 and goes to the House.

SB 530 deals with impact fees related to population growth and public service needs that designated growth counties are permitted to levy.

To qualify as a growth county, it must have population growth exceeding 1% averaged across five years. State code lists seven requirements for a growth county to be allowed to impose an impact fee.

The bill removes one of those: adopting a comprehensive zoning ordinance. 2020 census data showed that Monongalia was the second-fastest growing county, after Berkeley and before Jefferson.

Mon County does not have a comprehensive zoning ordinance.

The bill passed 34-0 and goes to the House.

SB 551 deals with business improvement service fees levied by cities with business improvement districts. Charleston and Morgantown are the only cities known to have them.

Current code requires that any surplus money in business improvement funds be applied to lower the fees for the next fiscal year. The bill removes that requirement so that the district may save it to plan and budget for future projects.

Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said Charleston has a six-block area downtown with 37 property owners who assess their own fees. “Their mission is to basically make a more beautiful, thriving, active downtown area.”

It passed 34-0 and goes to the House.

SB 620 deals with the Mothers and Babies Pregnancy Support Program. The 2023 legislation that created it didn’t specify how pregnancy help organizations could use the money. The bill specifies that it can be used for capital expenditures; expanding services; and costs for licensing, accreditation and training.

It passed 33-1, with Caputo voting against, and goes to the House.

SB 629 concerns the state building code, which is implemented by the state Fire Commission and fire marshal. Currently, only six counties and 36 municipalities have adopted it.

Starting July 1, 2025, the code would govern construction in all 55 counties and all municipalities. It would not be retroactive but would apply going forward from that date. The bill does not require any inspection or enforcement mechanisms for counties and cities that don’t already have them in place.

It passed 34-0 and goes to the House.

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