Soft drinks in schools to be considered by WV Legislature - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Soft drinks in schools to be considered by WV Legislature

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Several health issues that have been the topic of interim committee discussions will soon be debated by the full Legislature when the regular session starts Feb. 13.

The drinks offered in schools, repealing the state's law that allows "mental defectives" to be sterilized and treating sexually transmitted diseases are among the issues.

Lawmakers passed a few of those topics out of the interim joint committee on health Jan. 8.

The possible repeal of the state's current law governing sugar-sweetened drinks in schools garnered the most discussion.

Richard Goff, executive director of the West Virginia Department of Education's Office of Child Nutrition, explained to lawmakers that the current law has become muddy. He said prior to the current law, all soft drinks were prohibited in all West Virginia public schools. Then, he said, in the early ‘90s, legislation permitted the sale of soft drinks in high schools except during breakfast and lunch. He said that law was then amended to try to include and give equal weight to healthy beverages.

"What's happened, in translation, is we have a law on the books that basically prohibits the sale of any beverages, healthy or unhealthy, during breakfast and lunch," Goff said. "We have a piece of law on the books that conflicts with two federal regulations, and it also conflicts with some state board policies."

Goff said a repeal would eliminate the confusion, and allow the state Board of Education to carry out a rule in all schools that coincides with federal regulations. He said the drinks would be water, 100 percent fruit juice and milk, but the policies for school nutrition do not govern after-school activities.

Danielle Waltz-Swann, who spoke to lawmakers on behalf of the West Virginia Beverage Association, said the industry has worked with various parties for several years to be a part of the solution.

She said guidelines developed by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation mirrors current state code. She said the code, which does not allow soft drinks in elementary or middle schools, allows for a specific caloric amount to be offered in high schools, which allows older students to start making health choices that prepare them for the choices they will face in the real world.

Waltz-Swann said there may be a few clarifications that could be made to the current state code, but for the most part, the law is correct.

The full Legislature will also debate a bill that would allow a health care provider to prescribe treatment for a sexually transmitted disease to a patient's sexual partner without first examining the partner. A lawyer for the committee said the logic is that if the partner isn't treated simultaneously, the treatment wouldn't do much good.

Lawmakers during the regular session also will get the chance to repeal a bill the state Department of Corrections has said is "archaic," which allows the parent or guardian of a person described as a "mental defective," to ask a court for permission to have that person sterilized.

And lawmakers advanced a potential program to expand the health professionals who can participate in the health professional education loan forgiveness program. The program requires a three-year commitment for the health care professionals to work in a designated rural area, and it is funded through a rotating loan fund under the Bureau for Public Health.