By RUSTY MARKS
The State Journal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates on April 6 shot down a last-minute attempt to salvage a bill that would have limited the public disclosure of wages paid on government construction projects.
Delegates, including many Republicans in the GOP-controlled House, voted 67-31 against an amendment that would have restored an exemption under the state Freedom of Information Act to wages contractors paid to workers on government construction projects. The action came on the second reading of Senate Bill 412.
The legislation originally exempted wage information on government construction projects from public disclosure under FOIA. The bill passed the Senate on party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against the legislation.
But Democrats in the Senate argued that the public was footing the bill for the projects, and that taxpayers deserved to know where their money was going. Without being able to see who was paid, and how much, Democrats argued, how would taxpayers know if the workers hired for the projects were mostly West Virginians as required by state law?
Opponents also argued that exempting wage information from FOIA would allow contractors to hire illegal foreign workers without anyone finding out.
When Senate Bill 412 reached the House of Delegates, however, the House Government Organization Committee voted 15-10 on an amendment to remove the FOIA exemption, saying taxpayers should know where their money was going. The bill then went to the House floor with the FOIA exemption removed.
When the bill came up for second reading, however, Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, offered an amendment restoring the FOIA exemption. The motion led to a lengthy and heated debate.
Caputo wondered aloud who had been pushing the bill and what they were trying to hide from taxpayers. He and other delegates suggested disclosing wage information would show that repealing prevailing wage laws, which some had predicted would save the state millions of dollars on public projects, didn’t really save money at all but did drive down wages for construction workers.
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