For the week ending Jan. 17, 2020
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia House of Delegates passed its first bills of the 2020 regular session this past week, with a bill protecting the sanctity of life for vulnerable newborn babies among the first to pass.
Delegates on Monday passed House Bill 4007, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, by an overwhelming 93-5 margin. The bill requires doctors to use reasonable medical judgment to preserve the life of a child that ends up being born alive during an attempted abortion.
“There is no greater right than the right to life,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette. “This bill makes it absolutely clear that West Virginians expect doctors to do everything possible to save the life of a child, even if that child happens to be born alive during a botched abortion procedure. If that child has a heartbeat, if it’s trying to take its first breath, we must ensure that everything possible is done to give it a fighting chance to live.”
The bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, said her now 15-year-old grandson, who was born extremely premature, was an inspiration for pushing this bill.
“He was one pound, five ounces when he was born, his eyes were sealed shut like a newborn kitten’s eyes, but he was a fighter – he wanted to live,” Delegate Rowan said. “Thanks to the help of God and a wonderful medical team, he’s alive today, and I want to make sure every child born in West Virginia gets the same opportunity to live.”
House Bill 4007 now goes to the state Senate for further consideration.
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Delegates also overwhelmingly voted 97-1 this week to pass House Bill 4004, which would create the West Virginia Sentencing Commission.
The 13-member panel would study the criminal sentences imposed to ensure the state’s limited correctional resources best fulfill the goals of criminal punishment, rehabilitation and protection of the public while preventing disparate treatment of offenders based on racial, ethnic, cultural, economic or other factors.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said the state’s criminal incarceration system has been filled to 20 to 25 percent over capacity in recent years, creating a significant strain on the system and state and county budgets.
“While we absolutely want to protect the public from violent offenders, we have to ensure that we’re not indiscriminately locking away for too long those nonviolent individuals who have been rehabilitated and can now contribute to society rather than drain its resources,” Chairman Shott said. “This commission will ensure we have more effective incarceration policies that more appropriately fit the punishment to the crime.”
This is the third year in a row the House has passed this proposal, which has yet to advance in the state Senate. Chairman Shott is hopeful the Senate will give it more consideration this year.
In addition to the sentencing commission bill, the House is also considering reforms to the state’s parole system and pre-trial bail policies to ensure the criminal justice system is working as efficiently as possible.
“We want to make sure the public remains protected and that criminals are paying their debt to society, but we also want to make sure that those individuals who are no longer a threat and are ready to rejoin society can do so as quickly as possible,” Chairman Shott said.
“We know one of the biggest problems we have in this state is low workforce participation. And if there are rehabilitated individuals who are employable and ready to get back to work, we need to make sure government isn’t standing in the way.”