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West Virginia

April 30, 2009

Legislature Closes: The Good Die with the Bad

When the dust settled at the end of this year’s legislature, freedom was safe, but no new ground was won.

Several bills were introduced that would have increased the age of compulsory school attendance to 18. There appeared to be little enthusiasm for these bills since neither came out of committee in the house of origin.

Two bills that would have undermined parents’ rights suffered the same fate. One, H.B. 2544, would have given grandparents almost unlimited access to visit grandchildren—even if parents objected. If it had passed, it could have attracted a court challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court in Troxel vs. Granville said a similar law in Washington state was unconstitutional.

The other bill, H.B. 2022, would have made it possible for child welfare workers to take children away from parents without the approval of a judge. A committee would have been created that would have power to take the children away. HSLDA Staff Attorney Scott Woodruff had a conversation with the bill’s sponsor, but he could not convince him that this was a bad idea. HSLDA sent out an e-lert, and your calls sent a powerful message.

A bill to restore religious freedom to the same level that existed prior to 1997 likewise failed to emerge from committee despite vigorous efforts and your phone calls. The only way to restore religious freedom is for states to do it individually. Many have already done so. We will continue to work until West Virginia joins the others in this vital area.

A bill that would have lined West Virginia up with the vast majority of other states by allowing a religious exemption to immunization was filed, but the provisions were so burdensome that it was worse than no exemption at all. HSLDA helped draft language that would have removed all of the bizarre and outrageous features of the bill (like having to get a magistrate’s approval for the exemption!), but the revised language did not move forward before time ran out.

The most dramatic threat to homeschool freedom was House Bill 2749 which ostensibly did homeschoolers a “favor” by giving them the right to participate in public school sports programs. However, the bill demanded a serious “pound of flesh”: (1) the elimination of a parent’s option of using a portfolio for a year-end evaluation, and (2) bringing back a nasty provision that was removed from the statutes several years ago that said a family must stop homeschooling if their child’s test scores are low. An HSLDA e-lert and your phone calls generated considerable media attention.

Woodruff was a radio guest on WVHU’s Tom Roten show to discuss H.B. 2749, when the bill’s sponsor came on line. Woodruff and the sponsor had a short, impromptu public debate about the bill. Evidently Woodruff “won”, because in the end she publicly announced that she no longer supported her own bill! It’s doubtful she ever intended to cause any harm to homeschoolers. We suspect the hostile language was put in without her personal understanding of the consequences.

Woodruff plans to work with the sponsor over the summer to draft language that would allow sports access but cause no harm to homeschoolers. Assuming such a bill is actually filed, HSLDA would neither support nor oppose the bill.

Thank you for all your efforts. Your phone calls are the “roar” that makes lawmakers listen.