|The House Veterans Affairs/Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday approved a proposal to establish joint oversight of the state’s Fusion Center.
According to the agency website, a fusion center is a collaborative effort of two or more agencies that provide resources, expertise, and information to detect, prevent, investigate, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity. Al 50 states have fusion centers.
House Bill 4758 would create a Joint Oversight Committee on the Fusion Center to work with “those with the primary purposes of homeland security, counter-terrorism, public safety, public protection, and identification of threats to critical infrastructure.”
Proposed statutory language prohibits the Center, housed under the Department of Homeland Security, from “knowingly” participating or cooperating in activity with any federal agency or contractor about actions “…prohibited or restricted (by law) or by federal or state law prohibiting intelligence-gathering activities upon persons lawfully in the United States….”
Homeland Security Committee Chair D. Roland Jennings of Preston County received comments from a state Homeland Security official who mostly was concerned about proposed statutory language clarifications.
Delegate Mike Pushkin of Kanawha County, given comments from a state Homeland Security official, sought to table the bill, which would allow consideration of agency comments.
That motion died on a tie vote.
· Fusion officers, directors, agents, or employees would be prohibited from engaging in “…intelligence gathering activities on persons lawfully in the United States (based on) federal or state law or in contravention of the Constitution of the United States… (The Center is prohibited from collaborating) with any other entity on any information or intelligence gathering for any political purpose (and the Center cannot) cooperate in any investigation of a public official or candidate for elected office unless reasonable grounds exist to suspect the subject of the investigation is, or may be, involved in criminal conduct….”
· The above language, however, does not prohibit the Fusion Center from investigating matters dealing with election fraud, election tampering, or other issues that “impede or impair state citizens of the right to tamper-free elections.”
· Improperly or inadvertently collected or gathered information by an employee or participant of the Fusion Center must be reported to the Director (who is required) to investigate the causes of the improper or inadvertent collection.
· The Homeland Security Director must provide the report within 72 hours of “discovery.”
Members of the Joint Oversight Committee on the Fusion Center include:
· House Speaker and two Delegates, one from each party, appointed by the Speaker;
· Senate President and two Senators, one from each party, appointed by the President;
· Senate and House Counsel/staff appointed by the President or Speaker;
· President of the West Virginia Chiefs of Police Association; president of the West Virginia Sheriffs Association; and a senior status Judge selected by the House Speaker and Senate President.
Committee Counsel said the term “trans-national” rather than the current term “international” encompasses U.S. “domestic” terrorism.
The bill has a second reference to the House Judiciary Committee.
The Committee advanced bills establishing a state military guard and two State Police rules.
The Committee defeated an amendment increasing from $1,000 to $2,000 allowable legal fees for State Police employees who prevail in grievances.