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This week in the West Virginia House of Delegates: Jan. 22-26

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia House of Delegates this week passed a long-debated reform to ensure equal representation among state’s delegate districts, while also passing 17 other bills, including measures to protect citizens’ privacy and boost consumer protections against deceptive telemarketers.

On Monday, the House passed House Bill 4002<>, which would break up the House into 100 single-member delegate districts following the 2020 U.S. Census. The bill passed on a broad, bipartisan 72-25 vote.

Supporters of the 100 single-member district plan say it is the best way to ensure equal representation across the state, with the smaller district size making delegates more accessible and accountable to the people they represent.

“This bill will give each of our citizens a stronger voice in their government by making their delegates closer to the people they represent,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.

Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, speaks with Delegate Tim Armstead, Speaker of the House of Delegates. W.Va. Legislative Services Photo

The House of Delegates is currently divided into 67 districts: 47 single-member districts, 11 two-member districts, six three-member districts, two four-member districts and one five-member district.

Single-member districts are used exclusively in the lower house of all but 10 state legislatures, and only West Virginia and New Hampshire continue to have legislative districts consisting of three or more members.

House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington, R-Berkeley, has advocated for single-member districts since he was first elected in 1984, and was lead sponsor of this year’s bill.

“I have waited a long time to see this day, and I am grateful to finally help bring this reform to fruition,” Delegate Overington said. “Single-member districts best exemplify the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ and offer enhanced accountability and more direct representation for our constituents.”

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On Thursday, the House passed a bill to close a gap in state law and make it a crime to use unmanned aircraft systems, more commonly called “drones,” to spy on people in the privacy of their own home. The state law currently has not been updated to reflect the development of drone technologies.

House Bill 3005<> makes it illegal to use a drone to view, follow, record or harass another person in an area in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. It also makes it illegal to mount a deadly weapon on a drone, or use a drone to interfere with manned aircraft, such as airplanes taking off from an airport.

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said the bill evolved from a disturbing incident that occurred in his district.

“There was a couple who went to visit their daughter and said that when they arrived at her home they found a registered sex offender using a drone to peer into her bathroom window,” Delegate Fast said. “This bill will close that gap that exists in state law, and protect the rights of people to be secure in the privacy of their own home.”

Anyone caught illegally using a drone to invade someone’s privacy could face up to a year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. Someone caught mounting a deadly weapon on a drone would face up to five years in prison and a maximum $5,000 fine.

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Also on Thursday, the House voted 94-2 to pass a bill that would ban the telemarketing practice known as “spoofing.”

House Bill 4150<> would update the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act to ban the practice of falsifying caller ID information.

Most phones today use caller ID technology to help people see who is calling before they decide to answer the phone. However, some callers have been using technology that deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity.

The federal Truth in Caller ID Act and Federal Communications Commission rules prohibit any person or entity from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information, but only if it’s done with “the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value.” However, spoofing is still legal under federal law if no harm is intended or caused.

House Committee on Government Organization Chairman Gary Howell, R-Mineral, introduced the bill, saying he and many of his constituents have been annoyed after answering phone calls that appear to be from local numbers but end up being unwanted telemarketers calling from distant locations.

“Our citizens have the right to be free from annoying, unwanted or harassing phone calls,” Chairman Howell said. “People think they’re receiving a call from a neighbor or someone down the street, only to find out it’s an irritating telemarketer trying to sell something you don’t want. It’s annoying, it’s deceptive and, if this bill is signed into law, it will soon be illegal.”

A violation of this act would give the affected consumer a cause of action and allow them to recover damages and a civil penalty ranging from $100 to $3,000 for each violation.

House Bills 4002, 3005 and 4150 now go to the Senate for further consideration.

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