|The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 631, a Secretary of State’s bill with several modifications to elections.
The expenditure of federal appropriations from Congress to the Secretary of State is authorized for the administration of elections. It is payable from the County Assistance Voting Equipment Fund, with approval from the State Elections Commission, for purchase of election equipment or security upgrades for federal elections.
The bill also establishes a uniform statewide deadline for electronic voter registration applications as 11:59 p.m. on the last day to register before the upcoming election. The current code’s deadline is stated as “close of business,” which is different in the various counties and is not applicable to statewide online voter registration.
Current code allows County Clerks to report voter-participation history into the statewide voter-registration system within 120 days after an election. The bill shortens the deadline to 80 days.
The bill passed with little discussion and questions that were not a topic of the bill.
Delegates asked whether West Virginia voting machines are connected to the Internet and whether the thumb drives that counties use for voter tabulation are secure.
Donald Kersey, General Counsel for the Secretary of State, responded that West Virginia voting machines are not connected to the Internet and thumb drives with the voter data are secure and kept securely.
New felony sexual-abuse offense tabled
The House Judiciary Committee held a lengthy discussion Tuesday on a strike-and-insert amendment for Senate Bill 187, but the bill was tabled by a majority vote. The bill would create a new felony offense of sexual abuse by a school employee.
Counsel said the bill as introduced was too broad and overlapped with current code. The strike-and-insert amendment filled in the gap for 18-year-olds who are still in high school. The bill itself applies only to public and private secondary schools and not to colleges or universities.
After many questions and discussion about including vocational schools, whether there is a problem in the state, and why current law doesn’t already cover it, the undebatable motion to table the bill was made and passed.
Legislation raises Sheriffs’ fees
The House Finance Committee passed Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 293 on a very close voice vote. The Chair ruled the ayes prevailed before a Delegate called for division, which would trigger a show of hands or roll call vote.
The bill increases fees charged by Sheriffs for serving notices related to tax sales of real property and other fees. The portion of fees charged by a Sheriff directed to the Deputy Sheriff Retirement Fund is increased, with $3 going to the retirement fund and $2 to Sheriffs (a reversal of current code, which has $3 going to the Sheriff and $2 to the Retirement Fund).
Delegate Amy Summers of Taylor County proposed an amendment that was adopted to reduce the $75 proposed new fee for serving notice to $30, explaining that it was consistent with other fee increases to $30 and that it was discriminatory to charge more to persons who couldn’t pay their taxes.
Bill speeds phase-out of county transfer tax
A bill to accelerate the phase-out of the portion of county transfer taxes that are currently sent to the state passed out of the House Finance Committee. By 2025, 100% of transfer taxes will be retained by the county.
Senate Bill 522 specifies that two funds are created for election administration infrastructure and physical and cyber security for the Uniform Real Property Recording Act. The Secretary of State will promulgate rules to establish minimum fund thresholds and standards for use. Once the funds have achieved the minimum thresholds, the money can be deposited into the county’s general revenue account.
Bill clarifies purpose of Dangerousness Assessment Board
The House Judiciary Committee passed Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 568 to clarify that the Dangerousness Assessment Advisory Board’s original purpose is its primary purpose. It authorizes the Board to offer its services to the court when requested and provide information and recommendations to the courts.
The bill states that the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has no supervisory authority over the board.
Bill focuses on clarifying deadly weapons
The House Judiciary Committee spent some time Tuesday to discuss pepper spray as it relates to Senate Bill 608, clean-up legislation the Committee passed as amended to clarify the list of deadly weapons and what a deadly weapon is.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty of Ohio County asked why code that was not being changed listed pepper spray as a deadly weapon unless it is used by a person over 16 for self-defense purposes. The Committee adopted an amendment that states pepper spray is not a deadly weapon if used by any person for self-defense purposes.
Committee passes bill to create disabilities study group
The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday considered and passed a Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 232, which creates a multi-disciplinary study group to make recommendations regarding the diversion of persons with mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance abuse problems, and other disabilities from the criminal justice system.
The purpose of SB232 is to create a study group that makes recommendations on how to deal with the disabled as it relates to law enforcement. The Committee Substitute amendment adds persons with cognitive disabilities. It also adds an 18th member to the study group from the West Virginia University Center for Excellence and Disabilities
SB232 was reported to the floor with the recommendation that it be passed as amended.
Panel passes bill requiring prompt court appearances
The House Judiciary Committee considered and passed an amended Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 633, which requires prompt court appearances for persons detained on capiases or warrants for failure to appear and provides procedures for issuing bench warrants and capiases for nonappearance at scheduled court hearings.
Under SB633, when a defendant is arrested in a county other than the county where the charges are being brought, the defendant will be transported to the proper county within five days after arraignment.
When a defendant fails to appear for arraignment, they will have 24 hours before the court issues a capias warrant. Additionally, written notice must be provided to the Sheriff when the capias warrant is no longer active so it can be cleared from the database.
The Committee also amended the bill to insert an effective notice requirement that says notice must state the date, time, location, and purpose of the hearing. Further, counsel must be informed no fewer than 10 days of the hearing unless a judge waives the requirement upon a showing of emergent circumstances.
The Committee Substitute for SB633 was recommended to the floor with the recommendation that it be passed as amended.