|The House Committee on Seniors, Children, and Family Issues on Thursday adopted House Bill 4313, codifying the Parents’ Bill of Rights.
The Committee raised questions:
· Which laws are being codified? Committee Counsel, in response to a question from Delegate Diana Winzenreid of Ohio County, said Delegate Dave Foggin of Wood County, the bill’s sponsor, might be in the best position to answer the question. Delegate Foggin, saying he was not an attorney, explained the legislation emanated from a citizens’ group that supports the legislation, although he didn’t cite what laws were being codified. Counsel did not have a ready answer.
· Does the language in the bill establish rights that supersede “codified” laws? “A parent may bring suit against the state, any agency or locality thereof, any government official, or any person acting under color of law based on any violation of this article and seek appropriate relief, including, but not limited to, injunctive relief, monetary damages, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and court costs. A parent may also raise this article as a defense before any court or administrative tribunal.”
Delegate Foggin noted the original legislation he drafted did not include those provisions, but he was urged by parties who formulated the bill to include that language so the measure would have teeth.
Most of the debate focused on Delegate Winzenreid’s efforts to strike that amendment, saying persons could use the other non-specified areas of codified Code if wishing to bring litigation.
Delegate Larry Rowe of Kanawha County, who sponsored two other amendments seeking to clarify the legislation, was blunt: Referring to the legislation as a “ferocious roaring lion,” Delegate Rowe said HB4313 “just creates a pot of money for lawyers…. We just don’t need more litigation…. There’s a bunch of people who can be sued.”
Delegate Winzenreid and Committee Minority Chair Anitra Hamilton of Monongalia County contend the measure will affect individual school volunteers, ranging in Delegate Wizenreid’s analysis from the state Department of Education to the classroom. Delegate Wizenried argued removal of the litigation provisions would allow codified sections of code to serve as remedies.
Delegate Wizenreid and Delegate Rowe, however, focused on the “color of law” phrase and its definition, which is not included in the legislation. Moreover, Delegate Rowe said legislators heard testimony from a law firm specializing in lawsuits that involve governmental personnel.
Delegate Foggin, however, described potential litigation as a “guardrail,” although Counsel said agencies may be immune from some litigation, and that courts may have to determine jurisdiction. That term is commonly defined as “the appearance of legal authority or an apparently legal right that may not exist. The term is often used to describe the abuse of power under the guise of state authority and is therefore illegal.
The term was used in the Civil Rights Act of 1871, in which the color of law was synonymous with state action, referring to an official whose conduct was so closely associated with a state that the conduct was deemed to be the action of that state.
Delegate Wizenreid’s proposed amendment was rejected on a voice vote. Delegate Rowe withdrew his amendments.
With the clock ticking, Committee discussion focused on House Judiciary being HB4313’s next stop.
Delegate Jonathan Pinson of Mason County said HB4313 will restrict government’s intrusion into the right of parents to raise children as they determine best.
“The scope of government is to stay in its lane,” he said.
The bill was adopted by voice vote.