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Legislature Roundup

The Dominion Post
Court of Claims renamed
CHARLESTON, W.Va  — The House of Delegates split along party lines, after a lengthy debate, to pass a bill renaming the Court of Claims.

HB 2447 renames the court as the Claims Commission and retitles the three judges as commissioners.

Judiciary chair John Shott, R-mercer, explained that the Legislature created the Court of Claims in 1967. It is under the jurisdiction of the Legislature, but many people wrongly assume it’s part of the judicial branch. The bill is meant to clarify that confusion and clarify that the commissioners are accountable to the Legislature.

It passed 66-34.

Fracking-related bill gets first airing
CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — A controversial fracking-related bill, nicknamed the “right to trespass bill” by opponents, got its first airing in the House Energy Committee on Feb. 23.

It deals with gas company access to land without owner permission for pipeline surveys.

After an hour of questioning, members agreed to delay action on it for another week so they can talk to constituents and stakeholders about it.

HB 2688 was introduced the morning of Feb. 23 and taken up in committee that afternoon — an unusual occurrence.


Committee OKs bill on drug data
CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — The House Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse approved a bill Feb. 23 to create a new Office of Drug Control Policy to gather drug abuse data and use the data to seek grant funding for state programs.

HB 2620 began as the Drug Overdose Monitoring Act, lead-sponsored by Delegate Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia and a committee member.

It called for the Department of Health and Human Resources to create a central state repository of information on drug overdoses.

Part 1 of the revised bill puts the new Office of Drug Control Policy within the Division of Justice and Community Services, and agency devoted to gathering data and seeking grants.

Part 2 incorporates the original bill.

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The State Journal

WV Senate passes bill criminalizing “revenge porn”

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia Senate voted unanimously on Thursday, Feb. 23 to make it a crime to distribute sexual images or videos without consent.

The practice, also known as “revenge porn,” typically occurs when a couple breaks up and one of the partners shares sexually explicit pictures or video of the other on the internet or social media. More than 30 states currently have laws on the books making revenge porn a crime.

“This is maybe more common than we realize,” Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, told fellow senators. Trump is chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, which reviewed the revenge porn bill.

Trump said students at Bethany College were the impetus for the legislation. Students at the college conducted research into revenge porn and came to lawmakers with their findings.

The bill would make it a crime to distribute or threaten to distribute nude or sexually explicit images or videos of another person without their written consent. A first offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, up to $5,000 in fines or both, while a second offense would be a felony with penalties of up to three years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Trump said the law would not apply to images taken in public or in commercial establishments.

The bill will now go to the House of Delegates for consideration.


Justice asks for ability to issue state workforce furloughs

Citing the Feb. 21 announcement by Moody’s Investors Service that West Virginia’s bond rating would be downgraded as his reason, Gov. Jim Justice issued a news release saying he “is urging the West Virginia Legislature to pass legislation authorizing employee furloughs.”

No such bill has been introduced yet, but Justice’s news release says “the proposed legislation” would give him the ability to furlough state workers through executive order and would define employees’ rights in regard to benefits during the furlough period.

The expected deficit for the current budget year, which ends June 30, 2017, is more than $123 million, according to the news release, and next year’s project budget deficit is nearly $500 million.

“Because West Virginia’s finances are such a dog’s mess, furlough legislation is a necessary precaution to stop the bleeding if we don’t act,” Justice said in the news release. “West Virginia’s credit was downgraded because our state keeps kicking the can down the road, and it will get worse if we don’t wake up. The longer it takes to pass my Save Our State plan and fix the budget crisis, the deeper we’ll be in the ditch and it will require furloughs.”

Jared Hunt, communications director for the House of Delegates, said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, would not be responding to Justice’s news release and would instead pass a budget.
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