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Report from W.Va. House of Delegates: Week of Jan. 25-29

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – After a week in which floor action was abbreviated due to the arrival of Winter Storm Jonas, the House of Delegates passed 15 bills this week, bringing the total number of bills passed so far this legislative session to 17.

Among the items passed this week:

*   House Bill 4005<>, Repealing prevailing hourly rate of wages requirements, passed 55-44 Wednesday following a lengthy, three-hour debate.
*   Sponsors: Delegates Householder (R-Berkeley), Cowles (R-Morgan), Duke (R-Berkeley), Foster (R-Putnam), Gearheart (R-Mercer), Miller (R-Cabell), Overington (R-Berkeley), Shott (R-Mercer), Walters (R-Kanawha), Waxman (R-Harrison) and Westfall (R-Jackson).
*   This bill repeals the article of state code requiring public authorities engaged in the construction of public improvements to pay a prevailing hourly rate of wages.
*   “This is a win for West Virginia taxpayers and our state’s economy,” said Speaker Tim Armstead, R Kanawha<>. “We must remember: every dollar spent by government is a dollar taken from our hard-working taxpayers, and we as lawmakers must work to ensure their money is spent wisely…By ensuring that workers on publicly-funded projects are paid fair, market-based wages commensurate with those paid on private-sector projects, we will free up resources to complete additional state projects – meaning more schools and more water and sewer projects – which will lead to more jobs overall.”

*   Committee Substitute for House Bill 4007<>, Relating generally to appointment of attorneys to assist the Attorney General, passed 96-1 Monday.
*   Sponsors: Delegates Cowles (R-Morgan), Rohrbach (R-Cabell), Weld (R-Brooke), Espinosa (R-Jefferson, Cooper (R-Summers), Butler (R-Mason), Waxman (R-Harrison), Moffatt (R-Putnam), Arvon (R-Raleigh), Hill (R-Nicholas) and Anderson (R-Wood).
*   This bill codifies the current office policy implemented by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to limit compensation for outside counsel. The bill establishes fee limitations and additional terms for private attorneys and requires the Attorney General to utilize a competitive bidding process for the selection of private attorneys.
*   “It was felt that it made sense that since the Attorney General went to a great deal of trouble to come up with a process that’s formalized now, but it could change with the next Attorney General,” House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said<>. “And because of the criticisms in the past, as to how that was handled and how loosely it was handled, and how it resulted in what a lot of people thought was excessive compensation that ordinarily would’ve been state money go to outside counsel; it was felt it was a good idea to put that process in the law, so it would apply in all future, to all future attorneys general.”

Notable legislation moving in committee:

*   Senate Bill 1<>, The West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act was passed by the Senate Jan. 21 and approved by Judiciary Committee on Friday afternoon by a 13-10 vote. It will be reported to the House Floor on Monday morning.
*   Sponsors: Senate President Cole (R-Mercer), Blair (R-Berkeley), Boso (R-Nicholas), Ferns (R-Ohio), Gaunch (R-Kanawha), Trump (R-Morgan), Majority Leader Carmichael (R-Jackson), Sypolt (R-Preston) and Takubo (R-Kanawha).
*   The bill would eliminate the requirement of an employee to be a member of a labor organization as a condition of employment. If passed into law, West Virginia would be the 26th right-to-work state in the United States.
*   The House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on the bill Thursday in the House Chamber.

*   House Bill 4012<>, the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is also being considered by the Judiciary Committee.
*   Sponsors: Delegates O’Neal (R-Raleigh), Speaker Armstead (R-Kanawha), Hanshaw (R-Clay), Moye (D-Raleigh), Fast (R-Fayette), A. Evans (R-Grant), Azinger (R-Wood), Waxman (R-Harrison), Romine (R-Tyler), Rowan (R-Hampshire) and R. Phillips (D-Logan).
*   The bill is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It establishes a four-part balancing test for courts to use in cases where a person believes their exercise of religion is substantially burdened by state action, that being: 1.) Does a person have a sincerely held religious belief? 2.) Has it been substantially burdened by government? 3.) Does government have a compelling interest to substantially burden that belief? 4.) Has government exhausted all other means to achieve its goals without infringing on that belief?
*   “Religious freedom is a basic human right, and a vital Constitutional right, that deserves protection under West Virginia law,” said House Majority Whip John D. O’Neal IV, R-Raleigh. “Every West Virginian should be free to live and work according to their faith without fear of being punished by government.”

Jared Hunt
Communications Director
West Virginia House of Delegates
State Capitol, Building 1, Room 240
(304) 340-3323

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