The 81st Session of the West Virginia Legislature concluded Saturday evening, March 8th, at the stroke of midnight. In addition to the many winter storms and weather mishaps that were ever-present this year, an unprecedented water crisis that affected 300,000 residents in and around the area of the state capitol the day after session began on January 9th, provided added pressure to the focus of this body of legislators. Many good bills and proposed legislation simply got bogged down, running out of time and getting lost in the shuffle of priorities.
For the American Heart Association, our main policy priority this session was our push for CPR instruction as a Graduation Requirement. As outlined in Senate Bill 381, simply 30-minutes of Hands-Only CPR, to include psycho-motor compressions, for grades 9-12 as a curriculum enhancement would ensure that this next generation of lifesavers are prepared to intervene and react in a cardiac emergency. The bill sailed through the Senate, quickly passing unanimously through both the Senate Health Committee and the Senate Education Committee, as well as through the full Senate. It reported out to the House chamber by February 3rd, only 25 days after the beginning of the session.
Bi-partisan support for the bill in the House was strong and spanned both the Health and the Education Committees. However, the bill was not taken up by the House Health Committee until later in the session than anticipated, February 27th. It passed out of that committee, but with amendments requiring the instruction time to be 45 minutes instead of 30 and for the instruction to be conducted annually. This added a layer of complication to our bill, but we had champions in House Education that were willing to work to revise these amendments so that it would more closely match the version that passed the Senate. Despite valiant efforts of our advocates and advocacy team, unfortunately, the House Education Chairwoman decided early last week not to run the bill through her committee for a vote. Instead she offered us a Study Resolution of the issue, which we agreed to work on with legislative members. This resolution will allow AHA and opportunity to further address concerns of the members and more fully investigate opposition as well as garner more support for the issue in the coming months preceding the 2015 session. It is not uncommon for Study Resolutions to become active, successful legislation once they are concluded. We are hopeful and your support in the coming months will continue to be invaluable.
The other policy priority pushed by the AHA this session was again the issue of increasing the tobacco tax by at least $1.00 per pack of cigarettes. Although early discussions with Senate leadership indicated a strong interest in this option, we fell short on our efforts to get this legislation to be carefully considered. Support in the Senate was more plentiful, but after hours of caucusing in the House, the votes for passage simply were not to be had. Talk of re-election woes and another big push from tobacco lobbyists and the convenience store groups, likely impeded our progress on this issue.
On a positive note, many new relationships and alliances were formed, lessons were learned and great in-roads and big strides were made by our advocates and supporters. We plan to move forward and accomplish solid policy changes in 2015!