|There was a heated debate in the House of Delegates Friday over a bill to combat childhood hunger in West Virginia.|
Republican lawmakers said the free-meals-in-schools program would send a bad message to kids about personal responsibility.
Democrats said there's a moral imperative to feed hungry students.
Delegate Ray Canterbury, R-Greenbrier, said the program could set up children for failure, "destroying their work ethic" and "showing them there's an easy way."
Canterbury told lawmakers that students should "work for their lunches" by mowing lawns and taking out trash at schools.
"I'm offended anybody in this body would dare say a child has to work for their meals," said Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha.
"I can't believe someone would say a first-grader, a second-grader... a fifth-grader has to labor before they eat. This isn't an entitlement bill," Poore said.
House members passed the bill (SB633) by an 89-9 vote. The House made minor changes to the Senate bill, which senators unanimously approved. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he will sign the legislation.
The Charleston Gazette said the bill would make free breakfasts and lunches available to every student in public schools, pre-kindergarten through the 12th-grade. West Virginia would be the first state in the nation to enact such a program.
The bill would establish nonprofit foundations that would raise money to help pay for the free meals. Now, only low-income children get free and discounted lunches and breakfasts at school, although some schools are participating in a federal program for free meals.
"Kids can't learn if they're hungry," said House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.
The program would take effect in fall 2015, starting in elementary schools and expanding into middle and high schools.
House Republicans said the Legislature should not set up programs to treat poverty's symptoms.