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House OKs Senate bill on filling vacant seats in state Legislature; acts on variety of other bills

MORGANTOWN – The House of Delegates on Wednesday passed a Senate bill regarding vacant legislative seats, quibbled over a Senate bill up for amendment and OK’d Senate amendments to a few of its own bills – sending them to the governor.

SB 591 is the vacancy bill. It stems from the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which newly elected Wayne County Republican Delegate Derek Evans participated in and resigned on Jan. 9 after he’d taken his oath of office.

Because the district sits entirely inside the county, the law was unclear on how to fill the vacancy, and that led to litigation decided by the state Supreme Court.

On the House floor, Judiciary chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, said the bill clarifies that a legislative district that sits entirely inside a single county, the county party executive committee will draw up the list of nominees from which the governor can select to fill the seat.

As under current law, for districts that span two or more counties, the district executive committee would choose the nominees. It passed 92-1 and heads to the governor.

Amended bills

SB 253 deals with redistricting and was on second reading for amendments.

A House Government Organization up for adoption says that the House speaker and Senate president will act as liaisons when dealing with the U.S. Census Bureau. County clerks will submit their precinct data to the liaisons and the secretary of state prior to legislative map drawing.

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer objected to the amendment. She pointed out that the committee rejected an amendment to the committee amendment that would have included the two minority leaders in the group that would review data used to create maps.

The committee amendment, as it stands, puts data review in the hands of one party. She said. “That is inherently not transparent, inherently not fair and it could yield to mischief.”

It wasn’t that long ago, she said, that the other party was the majority and it could change again some day. Both parties should see data as it comes from clerks and the Census Bureau.

Over her objections, the House adopted the amendment in a divided voice vote.

SB 704 is the bill to allow parents, custodians and guardians to inspect instructional materials used in their children’s classrooms. House Education had spent three hours spread across two days on the bill, and on Wednesday the House adopted the committee amendments in a 66-25 vote.

Bills to governor

The House concurred with Senate amendments to these bills and sent them to the governor:

HB 2177 allows the Division of Motor Vehicles to issue an ID card without a photo to a person whose religion or religious belief prohibits taking photos.

HB 4065 requires the state Board of Education to establish a hunter safety program for teaching in schools. The House version required courses to be taught in high schools and middle schools, outside of regular school hours, once per semester, on school grounds whenever possible, with school transportation available. The Senate amendment allows the courses to be taught during or outside school hours, only in middle schools, once per year during spring semester with the option for a fall course, and with the option for a high school course.

HB 4785 is a response to state Supreme Court Justice Evan Jenkins recently stepping down and changes state law for handling judicial vacancies. Current law requires an election to take place to fill the vacancy if an unexpired judicial term is greater than two years. This means Jenkins replacement would have to run for office this November after serving just a few months in office.

The bill changes it to three years so the Supreme Court appointee won’t have to run until the May 2024 judicial election.

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