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Proposal to end school boards' legal ads tabled

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was city senator versus country senator Thursday in a debate over a bill to eliminate current law requiring county school boards to publish annual financial reports in their local newspapers.

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, said the law (SB508) is antiquated, and amounts to a subsidy for newspapers.

"This was put into effect years ago when the main source of information was the newspaper, and that's not the case today," said Wells, a former television news anchor/reporter.

Wells said county school boards could save thousands of dollars annually by posting the spending reports on their websites, instead of publishing them in newspapers as legal ads.

That drew the ire of Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, who told Wells, "Sir, I understand, you're a big-city guy."

Barnes said that many West Virginians, particularly those in rural areas and small counties, still rely on newspapers for their information, citing counties including Pocahontas, Pendleton, and Randolph.

"Guess what -- we don't have broadband [Internet], and a big portion of our population wouldn't turn on broadband if they had it," said Barnes.

Don Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, agreed with Barnes.

"We're talking about West Virginia residents and taxpayers now, and a lot of them do not use the Internet," Smith said. "All this bill would do is take information the public needs access to ... and take it out of the public realm."

Wells said he "would never support anything that wouldn't provide a higher level of transparency."

Barnes urged Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, to table the bill.

"I hope you're going to bury this in the depths of the Kanawha River," Barnes said.

The Education Committee adjourned Thursday without taking action on the bill, effectively killing the bill. Plymale said he plans to propose that the issue be a topic for study during legislative interim meetings this year.

Also Thursday, the Senate Education Committee advanced a bill that would create a second mascot exemption under the 1994 law banning firearms on school grounds, to allow the Parkersburg High School Patriot to carry a musket (SB421).

"Since everybody's been saying this session is all about guns and education, we decided to mix the two," Plymale said of the bill.

Currently, only the West Virginia University Mountaineer mascot is exempted from the ban on firearms on school property.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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