CHARLESTON — What is usually considered quiet time in the State Capitol has instead been busy with pandemic response, but West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is still signing bills from the 2020 legislative session into law.
As of Friday afternoon, Justice had signed 351 bills into law and vetoed six.
Among the bills signed is a collection of bills surrounding child welfare, including House Bill 4092, which reformed the state foster care system in several ways. Foster families said the bill was going to make a significant impact on their lives.
The bill increased the reimbursement rate paid to foster families to help them provide for the children in their care. It creates a tiered payment system, which will provide more funding to families who foster harder-to-place youth, such as older kids or those with special needs, in an effort to reduce the number of children placed in institutions, the majority of which are out of state.
Along with several other measures, including requiring transitional living sites for older foster youth, the bill established a bill of rights for both foster children and foster families. The violations of those rights will be investigated by the foster care ombudsman.
Justice also signed House Bill 4094, which strengthened and clarified the duties of the foster care ombudsman, a position that was created in 2019 as part of the first reform bill.
The bill clarifies the position’s subpoena powers and grants the ombudsman access to medical records and other confidential records related to investigating complaints.
Justice also signed a bill to add more Child Protective Services worker positions, adding a total of 87. Senate Bill 312 creates a registry of CPS workers, ensuring that those with positions that do not require a social work license are still monitored by a professional board but not given social work licenses.
The bills are effective 90 days after passage — June 3, 4 and 5.
Justice also signed House Bill 4415, which unifies language between the state health department and the West Virginia State Police relating to missing and endangered children.
During the September interim session, the Joint Committee on Children and Families heard from state Department of Health and Human Resources Deputy Secretary Jeremiah Samples on the number of runaway foster youth that was alarming. The committee formed a subcommittee to work on the issue with state police and DHHR.
In January, The Register-Herald newspaper in Beckley reported that the West Virginia Child Care Association told the committee the numbers were so high because of the state’s definition of runaway, which included youth who were “away from supervision,” which could be a child out of sight of their caregiver for just 15 minutes.
The bill adds “missing and endangered” child to code, which is a child who is at high risk of harm or immediate danger, including a physically or mentally disabled or dependent child, or a child under age 13.
The bill is effective June 3.
Justice’s six vetoed bills included House Bill 4159 and House Bill 4395. HB 4159 was aimed at developing a hard cider industry in West Virginia, and HB 4395 removed the requirement for veterinarians to enter information into the prescription drug monitoring database. The director of the Board of Pharmacy reported it was too hard to track pet prescriptions because pets do not have identification.
Justice did not include notes with his vetoes.