Gov. Jim Justice dealt with dozens of bills during a deadline signing blitz. One that troubled him was a bill allowing greater latitude for high school athletes to transfer.
“It’s a really tough call, is it not?” Justice said in response to a MetroNews question about the transfer bill during a Wednesday news briefing.
Even after action was made clear on many of the bills the governor needed to act on throughout the day Wednesday, there was still no word well into the evening on the sports transfer bill. He had three choices: sign, veto or let it become law without his signature.
Late in the regular session, lawmakers combined a bill that would expand athletics opportunities for Hope Scholarship recipients with a policy that would provide greater transfer options for high school athletes.
As originally structured, House Bill 2820 would allow Hope Scholarship recipients attending private schools, microschools, learning pods or homeschool settings to participate on public school teams unless the sport is already offered at their school.
Then, an amendment meant the bill would also include policies that were originally in Senate Bill 262, allowing student-athletes to transfer schools at least one time and keep their athletic eligibility.
Justice said that made the decision difficult. He is the girls basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School.
“If you look at it on one hand from the standpoint of me being a coach, I think athletes moving all around all over our state and everything, naturally your more prominent schools and schools that have better uniforms or better shoes or whatever it may be, they absolutely have, surely, an advantage over the parity that we have all over the state,” Justice said.
“From the standpoint of making our sports not competitive with one another, you’d best better consider that as well.”
But the governor seemed to be addressing the aspect of the bill allowing students from private schools and alternative schools to participate on public sports teams when he said families expect more choices.
“Parents believe that they have rights — rights with how their children should be educated, rights of where their children should be able to play — whether it be a Hope Scholarship kid or it be a homeschooled kid,” he said. “Those parents that are involved with their children feel like they should have a real latitude of choice.
“I think our Legislature has considered every single aspect of that. To be perfectly honest, it’s going to be perfectly difficult to go against how our Legislature has decided this.”
But he again referred to his coaching experience in saying “this is going to cause some level of imbalance as far as our sports teams all across our state. I don’t really know how to address the choice issue that parents are absolutely deserving of. I’m working it. I’m working it. That’s all I can tell you.”
The governor had already signed 170 bills by Wednesday morning. Up against deadline, he still had decisions to make on 161 more.
He vetoed SB 667, Requiring periodic performance audits of WV Secondary School Activities Commission.
Several notable bills that he signed over the course of the day included House Bill 3018, which establishes a floor of 16 years old for underage marriages in West Virginia, including a provision that the marital partner may be no more than four years older.
He also signed House Bill 3135, which raises the salaries of the Governor and Constitutional officers beginning in 2025.
The governor signed House Bill 2862, which would adjust standards for shareholder voting by the West Virginia Investment Management Board and the Board of Treasury Investments, directing them away from considering environmental, social and governance standards.
He signed House Bill 2310, which originally was an “Antique Fleet” bill, but which then was amended to change West Virginia vehicle inspections to every two years.
He also dealt with dozens more.
During his briefing, Justice acknowledged he was also deciding what to do with House Bill 2007, which restricts medical options available to youths going through gender dysphoria.
He wound up signing the bill late in the day.
One of the complications with his decision-making, he said, was just the sheer number of bills he and his administration were dealing with.
“We’re getting through ’em and everything, but it’s not a fast process. This takes time, and we want to be respectful of the votes that were taken and how people debated these and how they came up with these bills and passed them,” he said. “But we’ll get through most all of them today.”
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