The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 20, 2014

Legislature: Bill aims to pave a way to better public wellness

Division of Highways, Bureau of Public Health would work to move state toward exercise

By Pamela Pritt
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — The Senate’s Select Committee on Children and Poverty moved a bill Wednesday designed to put West Virginians on the road to better health.

The Healthy Children and Communities Act will require the Division of Highways and the Bureau of Public Health to collaborate to provide options and opportunities for state residents to exercise.

The DOH will look at making road projects more accessible for bicyclists and runners, thus promoting physical activity around the state’s roadways if the bill becomes law. However, the DOH will not have to study every state road project because it would be cost-prohibitive.

Public health officials must be invited into communities to help determine how best to keep public facilities like schools open for community uses associated with exercise.

Committee members were concerned that the use of public buildings would increase costs for local entities, as well as create liability issues.

Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said it’s one thing to say public buildings should be used, but wanted to know how costs are mitigated.

The committee’s legal counsel said counties already using their buildings have worked out ways to overcome those obstacles either through grants or private donations. She said the bill purposefully leaves funding sources open so that communities can develop programs that fit their needs.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said the bill doesn’t deal with limiting liability. Stollings said the legislature will have to deal with liability in the future.

“If it wasn’t a litigious society that we live in, we wouldn’t be having this meeting, we’d already be using all (these buildings) after-hours,” he said.

Stollings said a waiver may work in the short term.

The bill moves on to the Committee on Health and Human Resources.

Committee chair Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said future meetings will take place around the state, beginning in Greenbrier County.

— E-mail: ppritt@register-herald.com