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Marshall University's Student Newspaper

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BeyondMU: W.Va. Legislature Continues Slew of Controversial Bills Despite Opposition

Matthew+Schaffer
The Parthenon
Matthew Schaffer

West Virginia’s House of Delegates passed the controversial HB 5243, also known as the “West Virginia Women’s Bill of Rights,” on Wednesday, Feb. 14, despite strong opposition, with more controversial legislation on the way.

The West Virginia Women’s Bill of Rights seeks to legally define gender based on an individual’s assigned sex at birth, creating legal definitions for “man,” “woman,” “boy,” “girl,” “mother” and “father” while deleting the term “gender” from state law, replacing it with “sex.”

This bill has largely been seen as an attack on LGBTQ West Virginians, with the bill delegitimizing the terms “third-gendered” and “nonbinary.” The bill passed the state’s supermajority-Republican house in an 87-12-7 vote along party lines despite a strong showing of opposition in the bill’s first public hearing.

The goal of these changes is to restrict access to single-sex spaces such as locker rooms, bathrooms, athletic facilities, rape crisis centers and domestic violence centers to those now legally defined by their assigned sex, with the bill also stating the “equal” does not mean “same” or identical” regarding equality between sexes.

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It also creates provisions that require all data collection on an individual’s gender, whether it be from schools, organizations or agencies within the state to only acknowledge the options “male” or “female.”

The legislation has already garnered public support from Gov. Jim Justice, who will likely sign the bill once it passes the Republican supermajority in the state Senate.

This bill has garnered criticism from West Virginia’s Democrats and civilians, who have vocally opposed this piece of legislation.

“That’s what this bill is all about: unifying people against a perceived threat,” Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said. “But the problem with it is, it affects real people, real constituents of ours, real West Virginians.”

“It is an insult to purpose a bill that only serves to push a hateful agenda,” Krys Smith, Marshall student, said in the public hearing. “It’s no surprise to me that this bill doesn’t address violence, menstrual healthcare or breastfeeding equity, nor does it care about protecting incarcerated women, immigrant women or women of color.”

Despite these strong words against the bill, it did pass the House with the only approved amendment proposed by Democrats being the provision that revokes protection of the spouse in sexual abuse cases despite several proposals such as equal pay and a reduction in feminine hygiene tax.

HB 5243 is not the only piece of controversial legislation that has passed in recent times, with Justice signing Senate Bill 10, or “The Campus Self Defence Act,” just last year. That bill would allow concealed carry on college and university campuses across the state and is set to go into effect this July.

Similarly to HB 5243, the majority of those who came out to speak on SB 10 were in opposition to it, with 37 of the 39 people who took to the podium citing the possible increase of violent crimes on campuses due to the passage of the legislation.

Meanwhile, several other pieces of legislation target transgender and nonbinary people in the state with Sen. Mike Azinger introducing three pieces of legislation to the Senate last month that seeks to ban “transgender exposure” near schools in SB 197, “transgender exposure in performance” in public or establishments that are not 18+ and SB 194 that would ban gender-affirming care for anyone under 21.

Another bill coming from the House is HB 4654, which would seek to ban all material deemed “obscene” from West Virginia’s schools, museums and public libraries. This bill, like many others that have swept the nation, has vague wording regarding what qualifies as “obscene.”

“The vague definition of the bill opens the door for attacks and legal challenges on any exhibit, program, lecture, publication or other project that some member of the community may not agree with,” the West Virginia Association of Museums said in a statement on Sunday. “The threat of legal prosecution will only serve to limit or erase the ability of West Virginia’s museums to continue centers of history, culture, education and community.”

With the state’s current supermajority in both the House and Senate, Justice’s conservative legislation, mimicking the likes of other red states, will likely continue as the 2024 election looms in November that will determine both state and national leaders.

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