CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Senate, in a rare beat-the-clock Saturday session, passed several bills, most of them unanimously.

Crossover Day — the deadline for bills to be completed in each chamber and sent to the other — looms.

With several key GOP agenda bills still hanging, the Senate leadership is in high gear to finish that agenda by March 4.

Among those bills, SB 14, allows public charter schools. The bill has been controversial among teachers and administrators, and was hung up in the Senate Committee on Education for weeks, growing to 56 pages with amendments to the original bill.

It was short-lived in Senate Finance, however, as Democrats there took advantage of a rare majority and moved the bill to be postponed indefinitely.

According to the Democratic leadership that should have killed the bill until the next legislative session. But Republicans used Senate rules to discharge the bill from the committee without the committee’s recommendation, causing a few days of dysfunction, as Democrats demanded to have bills read in their entirety.

During the Saturday session, Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, moved to have bill lie over a day for the third time this week. Senate Minority Whip John Unger, D-Berkeley, objected to the move because it would mean a Sunday session.

Unger, a pastor with three churches in the Eastern Panhandle, is presiding at a funeral service today. He asked that the bill lie over for two days to ensure a Monday vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, assured Unger the SB 14 would get the same treatment today.

“We are not going to run this bill tomorrow (Sunday),” Carmichael said. “There is every intention to run it on Monday if we can get everyone together.”

Sypolt said GOP leaders are still attempting to “make it more palatable” to Senate Democrats.

Another bill delayed by questions from Unger, SB423, amends a bill he authored last year after a chemical leak into the Elk River shut down water use for 300,000 state residents in nine counties.

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said this year’s bill “makes some significant changes” to the Above Ground Storage Tank Act. Trump said the Act “regulated tanks that didn’t need to be regulated” and jeopardized the economy of the state. More than 48,000 tanks were registered under the law.

This year’s bill defines two levels, Trump said.

Level I encompasses any tank that holds more than 50,000 gallons, tanks that contain hazardous materials and any tank in the Zone of Critical Concern, which is defined as roughly five hours upstream from any public water intake.

Level II takes in tanks that are not Level I and tanks in a Zone of Peripheral Concern, Trump continued.

Regulations are left to the Department of Environmental Protection, he said. The registrations already collected will be maintained, he said.

Only 5,000 of the tanks registered last year need “extra monitoring,” Trump said. “Don’t we want the DEP to focus its primary efforts on tank integrity with the most dangerous tanks instead of spending tine on tanks, some of which only contain water or are empty?”

Unger asked about medical monitoring, a minor portion of the bill, but an issue that received a major amount of attention after the spill occurred last year. Medical monitoring remains a provision in the bill, Trump said.

One change is in public information. The Department of Homeland Security will be the conduit to inform the public of a water contamination incident.

When the Senate returned for an afternoon session, the bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate on a 33-1 vote, with Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, voting against the bill. Walters, who was affected by the water crisis last year, did not speak against the bill on the floor.

SB 278 passed the upper chamber unanimously Saturday. The bill prohibits hunting with night vision technology and the use of drones. It permits a person to carry a weapon for self-defense in the woods during hunting season and permits hunting with crossbows during big game firearms season. It also sets a crossbow season.

SB 488 revives the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council, with a different appointment structure, and reducing the membership to nine from 15. Six of those members are gubernatorial appointments that the Senate must approve. If passed into law and signed by the governor, the council would be mandated to expand broadband Internet to unserved and underserved areas of the state.

Pamela Pritt is a reporter for The (Beckley) Register-Herald, a sister newspaper of the Times West Virginian.

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