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House judiciary committee passes water bill after 1:30 a.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — At 1:32 a.m. on Monday, more than 10 hours after its meeting was to begin, the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee passed a bill aimed at protecting drinking water, in the wake of January’s Elk River chemical leak.

The bill passed after consideration of more than 50 amendments, some of which passed with very brief, verbal explanations.

One new provision would require the state Bureau for Public Health to implement a long-term medical monitoring study of health effects from the chemical leak. It does not stipulate any funding source, but anticipates some sort of grant from federal agencies.


The committee was discussing its third different version of the bill and was on its third day of discussion. Prior versions have already been submitted by the governor, passed two Senate committees, passed the full Senate and passed the House Health Committee.

The Judiciary Committee began its meeting nearly two hours late on Sunday after members of both parties held private caucuses.

Barring a suspension of legislative rules, time is running short on the bill. It must pass the House Finance Committee, be read for three days, be approved by the House and then re-approved by the Senate, perhaps with a conference committee as well, by midnight on Saturday.

Last week, a group of 27 delegates wrote to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin requesting a special session to work on the bill, but that idea was discouraged by House and Senate leadership.

The bill requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to compile an inventory of every above-ground storage tank – like the tank that leaked at Freedom Industries’ tank farm — in the state.

An amendment that would have allowed citizens to sue companies or the DEP to enforce the provisions of the bill was defeated, 15-10, with mostly Republicans voting against it.

Citing terrorism concerns, delegates overwhelmingly amended a section of the bill that excludes the location and contents of chemical tanks from Freedom of Information Act requests.

There are already several exemptions in state FOIA law that govern homeland security issues.

Federal law requires the state to make chemical inventories public, through FOIA. It was unclear if the amendment would conflict with federal law, as text of the amendment was only made available to delegates.


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