W.Va. Senate passes rape evidence collection bill
CHARLESTON -- Legislation to regulate and improve the training of nurses who collect forensic evidence in sexual assault cases has passed in both the West Virginia Senate and House.
The Senate passed the bill Thursday to create a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Commission to regulate these specially trained registered nurses at the county and state levels.
Sen. Corey Palumbo said the bill aims to address inadequacies in the collection of evidence in sexual assault cases. He said not every health facility currently has a trained sexual assault nurse, which can impede or prevent evidence collection.
The bill's sponsor, Del. Barbara Fleischauer, has said the State Forensics Lab estimates up to 75 percent of rape kits have collection or documentation errors.
The House must now approve changes made to the bill.
Senate moves forward on exotic animals ban
CHARLESTON -- The Senate has approved legislation to prohibit the sale and ownership of wild and dangerous animals like bears, large cats, constricting snakes and alligators.
Sen. Ronald Miller said the Wild Dangerous Animal Act allows the commission of Agriculture to establish permits and fees to register wild animals currently living in captivity. It also exempts zoos and veterinary hospitals.
Violators could expect up to $2,000 in fines for each animal.
Miller said West Virginia is one of only six states without a similar law.
Sen. Dave Sypolt questioned whether West Virginia needs the law if federal law already prevents ownership of such animals.
Sypolt said only eight incidents involving dangerous wild animals have occurred in the state in 16 years.
The House must now approve changes to the bill.
Senate passes budget that dips into reserve
CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Senate has passed a budget bill that dips into the state's reserve funds by $125 million to balance the 2015 budget.
Finance Chair Roman Prezioso said a House lottery bill still under consideration would cut the amount needed from the Rainy Day fund by $40 million. House Bill 4333 redistributes lottery proceeds that currently go to greyhound breeders.
Prezioso said $220 million is the amount that can be spent from the nearly $1 billion reserve fund without jeopardizing bond ratings.
He said if tax revenues aren't increased during the next legislative session, he expects a significant portion of the fund will be needed to balance the 2016 budget.
The House is scheduled to pass a budget measure Friday and a compromise reached during next week's extended session.
Senate OKs Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act
CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Senate has passed legislation to help accommodate pregnant women in the workplace.
The Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act allows pregnant employees to request modified duties and other accommodations, such as bathroom breaks and help with manual labor, as long as they do not place undue hardship on employers.
The measure also requires employers to provide nursing women time to express breast milk. It bars employers from turning away a qualified job applicant out of concern she might be ask the employer to make some adjustments due to her pregnancy.
Under the bill, pregnant workers may file complaints against employers through the West Virginia Human Rights Commission and the commission may investigate claims relating to pregnancy.
Only Monongalia Democrat Robert Beach voted against the bill.
The bill has been passed in both the House and the Senate, and will now be sent to the governor for his signature.
Senate approves Cedar Lakes' privatization
CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Senate has passed legislation to allow Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley to become a for-profit business outside the scope of the State Board of Education.
The bill passed Thursday allows Cedar Lakes Conference Center to set salaries of its employees. In the past, the minimum salary requirements for school service personnel have applied to the center's employees.
Sen. Mitch Carmichael said last year's education audit indicated the center, which organized recreation and educational opportunities for Future Farmers and Future Homemakers of America, no longer fit under the education board's scope.
He said it was a shame to see it divested from the state but looks forward to it being viable in the private sector.
The bill now goes to the governor.
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