High tensions in the Senate, first vetoes by the Governor, and the clock ticking for priority legislation
You may have heard about some serious hubbub happening in the Senate chamber this week or, if you were like us and were listening in on the floor session on Tuesday, you may have heard the heated and confusing dialogue yourself.
Raised voices on the Senate floor were just part of the hubbub this week. The last few days also saw the first vetoes by the Governor and some more attention on Republican leadership priority bills. The Hub is here to help you slice through the noise and understand what hubbub matters – and what doesn’t.
Senate Parliamentary Hubbub
Tuesday saw one of the most contentious days of the session in the Senate and highlighted some of the tensions that have been boiling under the surface throughout the last 40 days.
It all started with a controversial bill that has the Senate split on party lines. The debate boiled over because of a set of obscure parliamentary actions taken in a committee meeting and then on the Senate floor.
Monday evening during a Senate Finance Committee meeting, Minority Leader Senator Jeff Kessler (Marshall Co.) moved to indefinitely postpone SB 14, the bill that would allow for the creation of charter schools in West Virginia. Indefinite postponement is a procedure whereby a committee votes to no longer consider a bill. It doesn’t vote against the bill out-right, but basically puts it into a holding area that the bill is unlikely to ever emerge from. Normally, indefinite postponement kills a bill for the remainder of the session.
Sen. Kessler was only able to succeed with his motion because three Republican senators were missing from the committee meeting that day. All three senators were out for excused medical and professional reasons but their absence gave the Democrat minority a rare opportunity to have the majority vote along party lines. The postponement motion passed because the Republicans did not have a majority in the committee and it looked like the charter school bill was dead for this year.
After checking with the Senate Parliamentarian, the Republican leadership determined that they could take the bill back up on the Senate floor on Tuesday by passing a motion to discharge the bill from the Finance Committee. While there was heated argument over whether this was a valid motion, current and previous Senate Parliamentarians made clear that the chamber has authority to undertake such an action. Democrats responded by slowing the activity on the Senate floor to a crawl on Tuesday by requiring the Assistant Senate Clerk to read every bill in full.
Tuesday served as an interesting glimpse into some of the mechanisms that lawmakers can use to shift, slow and change the legislative process – and it served as a reminder of how such a narrow split between the number of majority and minority members can create opportunities for hubbub, if legislators want to take advantage of those opportunities.
The First Vetoes
Tuesday also saw the first vetoes issued by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin for the 2015 session. While the Governor has already signed eight bills into law, he did not approve two bills passed by the Legislature that were awaiting his signature.
He vetoed SB 2201, which dealt with net metering, and HB 335, which provided first responders with access to opioid antagonists to combat drug overdoses. Both bills were vetoed because of technical errors.
Gov. Tomblin had discussed the need for access to opioid antagonists in his State of the State and encouraged the Legislature to fix that legislation and send it back to his desk before the end of the session.
It is unclear whether the Legislature will be able to fix both bills and move them back through passage before the session ends.
The House and Senate Leadership have been working against the clock since the first day of the session and the looming deadlines of this week have caused them to ramp up their work, just like everyone else.
Here are bills that the Senate Republicans have prioritized to move through this year, meaning that they must be through their committee review by Sunday…
- The asbestos reform bill, SB 411, is a tort reform bill addressing mass litigation relating to asbestos claims. This bill will be on third reading on the Senate floor on Friday.
- The aboveground storage tank bill, SB 423, which you can read about in our blog post from last week on a number of water bills. It will be on second reading on Friday.
- The consumer credit act, SB 542. This bill would, among other provisions, allow creditors to contact anyone to obtain a debtor’s contact information and allows creditors to contact consumers between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. every day. It has not yet left the Judiciary Committee.
- SB 541 received some press attention this week because of concerns raised by Senate Minority committee members about the Campaign Finance Act. This bill would dramatically change state elections by repealing a state law that currently bans corporate contributions to state candidates. Currently, corporations cannot give directly to candidates. SB 541 would remove this ban and allow unlimited contributions by corporations.
- SB 347, also know as the “constitutional carry” firearms act. This bill would remove current requirements that require gun owners to have a license to carry a concealed weapon. While it dismantles current concealed permit requirements, it does continue state licensing for any person who wants to obtain a WV firearms permit in order to obtain reciprocity with other states. The bill will be up for a final vote on the Senate floor on Friday.
- SB 377, or the “Learned Intermediary Defense” bill is another tort reform bill. This bill creates a legal defense for pharmaceutical manufacturers and sellers. It protects manufacturers and sellers from product liability claims so long as they provide warnings about the potential dangers of the drugs. The bill is up for a final vote on the Senate floor on Friday.
- The Franchise Bill, SB 453, applies to motor vehicle dealers, distributors, manufacturers and wholesalers. It’s a big bill updating and clarifying the section of code dealing with these franchises. It is not the motor vehicle bill that has gotten some media attention (SB 107) which would exempt certain used cars from implied warranties. SB 453 is still in the Judiciary Committee.
- Much attention has been paid to the Right to Work bill, SB 337. While there has much hubbub over this bill, including public hearings, rallies and a number of articles and editorials in various newspapers, the bill is currently in the Judiciary Committee and has not been taken up yet for a vote.
- SB 291 would allow the Attorney General’s office to contract for outside legal services. It is up for final vote on the Senate floor on Friday.
- SB 248 requires individuals involved in a car accident to provide insurance information to the other driver. Originally the bill included a provision requiring law enforcement officials at the scene of the accident to collect and distribute insurance and contact information between each of the drivers. This provision was removed in a committee meeting. The more limited version of the bill is up for a second reading on the Senate floor on Friday.
- Finally, SB 278 is a hunting bill that would prohibit the use of night vision in hunting and would permit crossbow hunting in the state. It will be on second reading this Friday.
And that’s all the hubbub that we’re following this week at the Legislature!