West Virginia lawmakers eye redistricting, free college

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia lawmakers advanced a proposal for redistricting House of Delegates seats Friday and have begun considering free community and technical college during the first full week of their 2018 session.

Hundreds of other bills were freshly introduced, several at the request of the Justice administration. Those included plans to fund residents’ tuition toward college associate’s and certificate degrees in technical trades and to help vocational high school students gain college credits.

“If we properly manage our resources we can provide, essentially, scholarships to everyone … that wants to attend community and technical college to further their education, to gain a stackable skill set, to allow them to take that trade or that education to the workforce,” Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael said. He’d said it would be one major initiative in the 60-day legislative session.

Sen. Mike Romano, a Clarksburg Democrat, said the word “free” concerns some people, but the proposal has provisions to ensure the students have a personal investment.

The legislation would require tuition grant recipients maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average, take at least six credit hours a semester, pass a drug test each semester and perform eight hours of community service. They would have to repay the grant if they don’t live in West Virginia for two years after getting their degree or certificate.

Only students living in the state for at least a year and having a high school diploma or equivalent would be eligible. They would have to be at least 20 years old or participate in a high school vocational program that strikes an agreement with a college.

The Justice administration estimated a first-year cost of about $7 million. A student’s other financial aid or scholarships would apply first against tuition.

Many other senators voiced support, though some said at a committee hearing Thursday that they want to ensure the programs also apply to students who are home schooled or attend private schools. Another hearing is scheduled next week.

The redistricting bill, which has advanced to the House floor, would establish 100 House districts following the 2020 Census, each with a single delegate. Now some larger districts among 67 currently have multiple delegates.

Delegate John Overington, the bill’s lead sponsor, said it would increase the accountability of delegates to their specific constituents. A second bill introduced by the longtime Martinsburg Republican legislator would establish criteria for redistricting, which he said is intended to take partisan politics and gerrymandering out of the process.

On Friday, the Senate advanced legislation to establish five-year tax credits for businesses locating on former coal mine sites. Senators agreed to double the credit to 100 percent of a business’ capital expenditures.

House Speaker Tim Armstead, an Elkview Republican, announced Friday he won’t run for re-election next year and is considering running for the state’s Supreme Court.

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