Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

Booze resolution, pepper spray bill clear committees, head for floor votes

MORGANTOWN — A bill to allow people to carry pepper spray on the Capitol Complex grounds whizzed through Senate Judiciary Monday afternoon and is on its way to the Senate floor.

House Government Organization also breezed through bills regarding ID cards without photos and Tourism fundraising, but held an extended debate on a proposal to modernize how the state Constitution deals with booze.

In Senate Judiciary, SB 46 proposes to exclude pepper spray from the code definition of deadly weapons and allow anyone age 16 and up to carry pepper spray solely for self-defense.

Sponsor Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, had the bill amended to limit the pepper spray aerosol container to 1 ounce or less, in response to a request from Capitol Police, who carry bigger canisters, she said.

She said the bill was intended to allow self-defense for employees and visitors walking around campus.

Sen. Patricia Rucker. Will Price/WV Legislative Photogaphy

The amendment and bill passed unanimously. On an unusual procedural note, the committee vice-chair typically makes the various motions to get the bill passed. But vice-chair Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, was absent so Democrat Bob Beach, Monongalia, filled the role.

A similar bill, without the 1-ounce limit, passed the Senate unanimously last year but died in House Judiciary.

Over in the House, a divided Government Organization Committee approved HJR 26, which would put before the voters a constitutional amendment to modernize state oversight of alcohol manufacture and sales.

The amendment would remove language regarding intoxicating liquors and saloons and simply say, “The Legislature shall by appropriate legislation regulate the manufacture and sale of alcohol within the limits of this state.”

Committee counsel and committee chair and lead sponsor Gary Howell, R-Mineral, explained that state code is full of legal fictions written to get around restrictions stemming from Prohibition.

For instance, beer up to 15% alcohol by volume is called non-intoxicating, even though it is. And restaurants that serve alcohol – Applebee’s was used as an example – are considered private clubs, so buying a drink for Applebee’s makes you a club member for your time there.

The amendment – which also passed out of Government Organization last year but died in Judiciary, resulted from research on state alcohol code and was part of a package of updates, Howell said. It will make future regulation updates easier.

“If we have to do anything with alcohol laws we can call stuff what it is,” he said.

Members had questions about how the amendment, if approved by voters, might affect the rest of alcohol code and how it might affect beer sales at college stadiums – where approval was conditioned on beer being rationalized as non-intoxicating.

Howell and an Alcohol Beverage Control Administration official who spoke said various pieces of code would have to be updated, too.

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, was puzzled over the name of the amendment: “Giving the Legislature more control over the manufacture and sale of alcohol amendment.” He wondered what “more control” meant.

Committee counsel said the “more” merely meant that the Legislature’s control would be clearer without all the legal fictions to dance around.

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, is a co-sponsor.

The committee approved two other bills unanimously and without debate.

HB 2679 would allow the Division of Motor Vehicles to issue a state ID card without a photo if the recipient holds a religious conviction against photos being taken. This bill passed the House unanimously last year but died in the Senate.

HB 2924 would allow the state Tourism Office to contract with the Division of Highways to sell ad space on the DOH’s WV511 traffic conditions website. Half the income would go to DOH and half to the Tourism Promotion Fund.

This one also passed the House unanimously and died in the Senate. Both bills go to the House floor.

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