By ANDREA LANNOM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that would prohibit nepotism under the state Ethics Act.
All 98 delegates present voted to pass House Bill 2001. Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said the goal of the bill is to rebuild public confidence in government.
The bill has four components. The first prevents nepotism under the Ethics Act. Shott said historically, the act has been interpreted to include nepotism and it has been a longstanding legislative rule included as a provision of private gain.
“This was amended to provide what the long implied right of it has been,” Shott said. “It amends private gain to now include express prohibition of a public official or public employee to knowingly influence or attempt to influence by favoritism of employment of his or relative or person which resides with them.”
The second would require a public official to recuse from voting on appropriations of an association which that official is a board member.
The third deals with disclosure of finances related to contracts. Before a state agency signs a contract, the official would have to disclose the financially interested parties, which include business entities performing the work, if the person had an ownership interest equal or greater than 25 percent in the entity and a compensated broker or intermediary to facilitate the contract.
“This will bring transparency to business and persons benefitting from the state contract,” Shott said.
The fourth updates the hearing procedures of the Ethics Commission and the Probable Cause Review Board and allows members to attend via video conference.
“Overall, House Bill 2001 adds transparency to contracts, appropriations and enhances ethical provisions of government,” Shott said.
The House also passed House Bill 2028. Under this bill, lawsuits filed against the state would no longer be limited to Kanawha County Circuit Court. Shott said the bill’s goal is to provide easier access to people who have claims against the state.
Shott said the limit to filing these claims in Kanawha County has been in effect since 1923.
All members present voted for passage.
The third bill passed by the House was HB 2359, which established penalties of practicing osteopathic medicine without a license. Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, explained that under current law, there is a distinction between the penalty applicable if a person unlawfully claims to be a physician versus those who call themselves a doctor of osteopathy.
The bill aligns penalties so the unauthorized practice of osteopathic medicine is the same penalty as the unauthorized practice of medicine. Upon conviction, the person could be fined $10,000 or could face one to five years in prison or both.
The bill passed with Delegates Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, and Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock, voting against it.
The last bill the House passed Monday was HB 2479, the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act. Hanshaw said under current law, there is a “patchwork of approaches taken by family courts” regarding adjudication of custody disagreements where one parent is a member of the military.
Hanshaw said under this bill, the courts can’t use past or future deployment as a factor for the best interest of the child. The bill also would an arrangement with custody made outside of court binding.
“Having lived through this, it’s impossible as a soldier deployed in the military to focus on the task of defending this nation while worrying constantly about the status of custody,” Delegate S. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley said.
Delegates unanimously voted in favor of the bill.
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