Lawmakers are introducing two proposals that would bring more teacher aides into classrooms and a bill that would expand dental coverage for Medicaid planners. But first, a bill would make it illegal for doctors to perform surgery to treat transgender youth for gender dysphoria.
Limiting health care options for trans youth
In West Virginia, transgender children face many practical issues. They are often bullied and stigmatized. They are at high risk for depression and suicide. They often avoid even seeking necessary medical care for fear of being mistreated.
“In our study someone sprained their ankle and didn’t go to the emergency room at all,” said Megan Gandy, a professor at West Virginia University who recently published a study on the topic. “They said they’d rather limp and handle it themselves than go to the emergency room because they know they’re going to have to deal with a lot of sexism and stuff like that.”
But West Virginia lawmakers are moving to further limit options for this already marginalized population. On Thursday, the House Health and Human Resources Committee introduced a bill that would bar doctors from performing surgery to alter the bodies of transgender youths to match their gender identities. Only a minority of transgender children choose this procedure.
During the hearing, Dels. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, and Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, spoke of the bill’s lack of physician consultation and condemned their Republican colleagues for supporting it.
“It doesn’t help anyone,” Pushkin told the committee. “It’s just an insult to people who are already marginalized.”
The bill passed by voice vote; none of the committee members who voted for the measure spoke publicly during the session to explain their reasons. But in other states, supporters of similar bills say their purpose is to prevent children from making irreversible decisions they may not be mature enough to make.
The bill will next go to the House Judiciary Committee. – All Siegler
TAs on the Fast Track
Both houses of the West Virginia legislature have introduced dual proposals to add teaching assistants to kindergarten through third grade classrooms.
On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee moved forward with a version of the bill introduced by its committee chair, Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason. The bill is broadly similar to a bill introduced by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay) that passed the House Education Committee yesterday. Henshaw has said the bill is one of his top priorities during the session.
A similar Senate bill passed unanimously and was praised by state Education Minister David Roach. West Virginia schools are facing severe shortages and student achievement remains among the lowest in the nation.
“I applaud the committee and I applaud the chairman for everything he’s done to help our children,” Roach said.
Both bills aim to give teachers more hands-on time with students by lowering the staff-to-student ratio. Adding a teacher aide to an overcrowded classroom might allow, for example, a dual-track system, said fourth-grade teacher Grady. Assistants can work with kids who are lagging behind, while teachers can continue to teach the rest of the class at a faster pace.
The two bills also require schools to focus their early years curriculum on ensuring students reach an age-appropriate level of literacy and submit progress reports to the legislature.
Grady’s bill would also allow teacher aides to receive some of the same literacy education training programs as the teachers they serve and require them to spend hands-on time with students rather than performing administrative duties.
“This bill will put money in our classrooms, right on the front lines,” said Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, who offered “enthusiastic” support for the bill. “I hope we can do this within our budget,” he added. — Ian Cabal
Senate bill to expand Medicaid dental coverage
West Virginians on Medicaid will be able to get twice as much dental coverage as they currently have, under the terms of a bill advancing in the Senate.
As we highlighted last year, the current $1,000 cap is insufficient for most dental procedures. The result is that Medicaid enrollees are forced to choose between incurring expensive bills or ignoring important health concerns.
SB 269 passed the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee unanimously without discussion on Thursday. The bill would pay up to $2,000 a year for most dental work.
Committee Vice Chairman Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, noted there was no estimate yet of how much the move would cost the state; an unsuccessful bill last year proposed raising the limit to $1,500 at an estimated cost of an additional $24 million. But as in the case of Medicaid, the federal government pays about 80% of the cost.
The bill still needs to pass the Senate Finance Committee before it goes to the full Senate. —Erica Peterson
deeper: For West Virginians on Medicaid, lawmaker inaction means dental and vision benefits fall short