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Foster among WV legislators who missed majority of special session votes


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two members of the West Virginia House of Delegates and one state senator failed to attend nearly every vote taken during the special legislative session.

A survey of roll calls posted on the Legislature’s website shows Delegate Nancy Foster, R-Putnam, and Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, missed 13 and 12 votes respectively on the initial passage of 15 bills the House decided on during the special session.

Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, missed 12 of 15 votes the Senate decided on.

Those totals only count the votes from either chamber’s first vote to pass bills. They do not reflect additional procedural or amendment votes, which can be critical in shaping or killing legislation. They also do not reflect votes from one chamber to accept amendments from the other.

Ellington and Maroney both work as doctors. Maroney is a neuroradiologist, providing medical imaging services to several hospitals in the Ohio Valley. Ellington works as an OB-GYN for Mountain View Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Several of the votes the three officials missed tie into the Legislature’s main responsibility — setting tax rates and allotting state funds.

For instance, Foster did not vote on Senate Bill 1013, the budget bill, which went on to become law without Gov. Jim Justice’s signature. The other two voted on the budget the first time around. However, all three missed votes to accept amendments added by the other chamber.

None of the three representatives voted on Senate Bill 1006, which increased the gas tax and Division of Motor Vehicles fees to fund Justice’s road bond proposal. They also did not vote on related proposals allowing the state to issue road bonds for the same purpose.

Foster blamed the governor, in part, for her absences, saying his veto of the budget passed by the Legislature during the regular session caused the need for a special session. She also said she had destination weddings to attend, and visited an aunt in California who was having “issues.”

“I had my sister’s wedding to attend and my daughter’s wedding,” she said. “My family comes first. Just because the governor doesn’t do his job doesn’t mean that life stops.”

A spokesman for the governor declined to respond to her comment.

Foster declined questions regarding the dates she left town for the weddings.

“I represented the people and I worked really hard, but when I saw the special session, I had to attend the weddings, there was no way out of it. My family comes first,” Foster said.

The special session ran intermittently from May 4 to June 16.

Last week, Foster resigned from her seat in the House, citing a need to spend more time with her family.

Maroney works for Radiology Associates Inc., a private practice that contracts with hospitals to provide imaging services. He said the firm schedules with hospitals as much as a year in advance. Because the timing of special sessions is erratic by nature, he said, he can’t schedule around them in advance.

When he won his election in 2016, Maroney said he took nine weeks off from work to attend the regular session in full. He said he stayed in contact with Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and rank-and-file senators throughout the special session and that he made it in whenever he could, especially if the whips predicted a close vote.

“I will not be there necessarily in person, but I would absolutely, 100 percent, be there if it made a difference to vote,” he said of potential special sessions in the future. “I’m still definitely part of the conversations, when we have caucus meetings, I’m in by Skype or phone. I’m a part of the conversation.”

Wrestling with similar issues, Ellington, who also chairs the House Health Committee, said his medical practice kept him from the special session more than he would have liked. He said that, not only does he have scheduled patient visits and surgeries to tend to, he also is one of two obstetricians at the hospital and, two weeks each month, he’s on call, meaning he needs to be within 10 minutes of the hospital at any given time.

“The calling in, the extra time, it does put a demand on people, and that’s the hard part,” he said. “But like I said, my constituents know what my full-time position is, and they know I’ve been up there for most things. I’m not making an excuse of that, but you have to juggle it.”

He said he made sure to stay in communication and make it in for close votes, and that his constituency is not hurt by the conflicting interests.

“I don’t think I’m short-changing them. Granted, it would be nice to have some votes on record, but I think my constituents know where I stand on most things, and they’ve been supportive of that,” he said. “If they feel I’m not doing the job for them, they will vote me out. And that’s fine, if that’s the way they look at it. But I think they realize I’m trying to do the best I can up there. But I do have to work for a living, I have responsibilities to my patients here.”

Other delegates and senators missed votes, as well, although to a lesser extent. Delegate Allen Evans, R-Grant, who works as a poultry farmer, missed 10 initial-passage votes. Additionally, Sen. Jeff Mullins, R-Raleigh, the CEO of a professional services firm, missed seven of 15 of the same votes. Neither could be reached for comment Thursday.

When asked what the implications of his line of work are for potential legislative sessions in the future, Maroney said, given the House, Senate and Governor’s Office are all under Republican control, there should be no need for another special session.

If it comes to a special session, he said, the Republican Party deserves what it has coming.

“I hope that both the Senate and House leadership learned their lesson from this,” he said. “Truthfully, I think, if we have a Republican governor, we have a Republican Senate and a Republican House, if we can’t get this taken care of in 60 days, then we deserve anything that happens in the 2018 elections.”

Reach Jake Zuckerman at [email protected], 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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