CHARLESTON, W. Va. – House Minority Leader Doug Skaff told members of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that kids going to school shouldn’t have to worry because there’s a homeless encampment near.
Skaff, D-Kanawha, is the title sponsor of HB 4753 which would keep these camps at least 1,000 feet from schools and daycares.
Skaff spoke in favor of the bill at his Thursday morning meeting.
“We shouldn’t have to tell our parents to stay in the car because it’s not safe yet to get out of your car to pick up your kids,” Skaff said. “I shouldn’t have to tell my 4-year-old son that he can go to school today because you won’t see someone scaring you.”
Skaff said he had a long list of examples in downtown Charleston.
The bill, which passed the committee on a voice vote, pitted some Democrats against their leader.
Of the. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, said Skaff received unfair criticism for the bill. He said there was no greater supporter of social services like food banks for the hungry, but Lovejoy said he could not support Skaff’s bill.
“It’s a bit embarrassing but I can’t support the bill,” Lovejoy said. “I think it’s going in the wrong direction and could further stigmatize a vulnerable population and I think ultimately we need to be a little nicer and let Charleston deal with Charleston.”
The homeless population in the state capital has been the subject of much discussion for years. More recently, a proposal for tiny homes was presented to a city council committee for possible funding from the city’s America Rescue Act funding.
According to the bill, “no municipality shall authorize or permit the establishment of a homeless encampment in any prohibited place, and a private right of action exists as a public nuisance for the enforcement of the provisions of this article”.
Skaff argued Thursday that children can be protected and the homeless cared for at the same time. He said that is what his bill is about.
“This is not an attack on the homeless. We can have both. We can have both,” Skaff said. “We can take care of our homeless population in West Virginia and we can keep our children safe, but at the end of the day, they just don’t have to be side by side.”
West Virginia Council of Churches executive director Reverend Jeff Allen told the committee he thought the bill created First Amendment problems for churches that served the homeless.
“Caring for the poor, including providing shelter, is a major mandate of the Christian faith and is exemplified throughout the Bible as a common call to care for humanity and a number of congregations and missionary projects could be located near a school – we are concerned about this bill,” Allen said.
The committee’s approval vote sends the bill to the full House for consideration, but Judiciary Committee Chairman Moore Capito said a public hearing has been requested and will be held before any vote on the prosecution bill.