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House passes increased penalties for exposing children to meth

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — The West Virginia House passed a bill Tuesday increasing criminal penalties for exposing children to methamphetamine manufacturing.

In a 98-2 vote, delegates passed the committee substitute for House Bill 2083. Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said this bill is a series of legislation passed through judiciary dealing with treatment of substance abuse and drug trafficking.

The bill increases the penalty for exposing children to manufacturing methamphetamine from a 1-5 year prison sentence to 2-10 years.

He said the bill also cleans up penalty language if a child suffered injury where the meth was manufacture, as well as aligning the definition of serious bodily injury with the definition it holds under the sexual offenses section of the code.

“The bill is designed to strengthen penalties or give law enforcement tools to address the epidemic,” Shott said.

Delegates Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, and Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, voted against the bill. McGeehan called the bill “Machiavellian.”

The House also passed the committee substitute for HB 2585, which would create a felony crime of conducting financial transactions with proceeds of a criminal activity.

Shott said law enforcement indicated that current laws are inadequate as they relate to drug enterprise and drug trafficking.

He said the bill makes it a felony to transport proceeds of a criminal activity and the penalty is dependent on the amount of money involved. If it is less than $15,000, the penalty is a prison sentence of one to five years and/or a fine of $5,000. If it’s greater than $15,000, the penalty is three to 15 years and/or up to a $25,000 fine.

Opponent Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said lawmakers could better spend their time focusing on the budget.

“We are half a billion dollars in a financial crisis and all we want to do is keep driving up the bills … How many colleges are going to shut down to pay for it? It’s one thing after another, after another in here. … We are stacking more years on people. We are fighting a war on drugs. If crimes were a deterrent, then there would be no crimes, no drug problem, but we keep locking them up and keep costing the state millions of dollars.”

Shott said this was one area that law enforcement asked for help and was a direct result of that request.

“They indicated they have no tools to address out-of-state activity that results in the pervasion of drugs in the area. …If you don’t think law enforcement needs help, then vote no. If you think they need assistance, vote yes.”

The bill passed 78-21.

Also passed Tuesday was the committee substitute for HB 2486, which provides that if a person’s health condition is at issue in a civil lawsuit, medical records and releases for medical information may be requested and required without a court order.

The bill prohibits restrictions that contradict or are inconsistent with any insurance policy or performance of insurance functions with respect to the receipt or use of medical records obtained by insurers in connection with litigation.

Shott said the bill relates to records that can be confidentially obtained by insurers in connection with insurance claims or civil litigation.

Shott said the bill does not change the law on how to obtain records but focuses on what happens after records are obtained. It doesn’t change the process required to obtain the records or the process in place regarding the dispute over whether records should be turned over.

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, opposed the bill, saying violations of HIPAA can only be handled by the DOJ and do not apply to insurance agents or other entities that have the records. He said there is no private cause for that kind of violation if there is a cause of action.

Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said his biggest concern was whether the insurance company could use records for future underwriting purposes, giving the example of if someone has a car wreck and finds out in the hospital that he or she has an exotic disease, then they could be denied future coverage.

The bill passed 68-31.

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