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House Passes Forced Pooling

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Liz McCormick
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

After a session that lasted almost until midnight Tuesday night, members of the House got an early start Wednesday morning to pass a flurry of bills. Here's a look at three of those bills, but first a look at a proposed constitutional amendment that passed protecting homeowners from creditors after the passing of a spouse.

House Joint Resolution 13 was first on the agenda. Delegate Eric Nelson of Kanawha County, the House Finance Chair, explains.

“This is dealing with the Homestead Exemption Increase," Nelson said, "As amended yesterday, the $20,000 would increase to $40,000. And again, our Homestead line item has not been increased since 1982, and I believe that the amendment also took away the county option and made this option of the authority. Mr. Speaker, I urge passage.”

House Joint Resolution 13 passed 93 to 3. If this joint resolution passes the senate the question about increasing the homestead exemption would be on the ballot in the Fall of 2016.

House Bill 2148 relates to the state’s open container laws. It creates a misdemeanor offense for having an open container of alcohol in certain areas of a vehicle; specifically in the driver’s and passenger’s seats. The language is required by the federal government so the state can keep getting federal highway funds.

Delegate Gary Howell of Mineral County supported the bill, but was concerned about cars without traditional trunks, like SUVs. Howell questioned the Judiciary Chair, Delegate John Shott of Mercer County.

“Do we have anything in this if someone, say collects beer cans for the aluminum," Howell asked, "and they put it inside the passenger compartment, and there’s residue in them, are they breaking the law or not?”

“I don’t think there’s anything specifically exempting that," Shott answered, "and I assume that if there’s any residue of alcohol in them, they should put them in the trunk and not in the passenger compartment, otherwise they risk violating this statute.”

“So an SUV, where you don’t have a trunk, they would be risking breaking the law,” Howell asked.

“Once again, in an SUV, you have a luggage compartment. I think what this refers to is that the passenger compartments of, I have an SUV, there’s an area in the back of my SUV where I put all types of luggage, even trash, so that’s where I would recommend you put it to avoid any, any misunderstanding,” Shott said.

House Bill 2148 passed 92 to 4.

House Bill 2939 requires the mandatory reporting of sexual offenses on school premises involving students. The bill is in part a response to an incident at Capital High School in Charleston. The Principal there was accused of knowing about an incident on campus, but not reporting it within the current legal time limit.

The case against the principal, however, has been questioned because of confusion over the current law. The House Judiciary Committee discussed a loophole in state code where there is no specific requirement of certain personnel to report such incidents. The Committee also updated the definitions of sexual offense and sexual abuse.

The bill had bi-partisan support in the full House, but some Democrats had some concerns. The bill requires an incident to be reported “immediately,” and a handful of Democrats were concerned this term, immediately, left the reporting requirement open for interpretation. Another concern related to the pressures this bill might bring on teachers.

Democrat Peggy Smith of Lewis County told her colleagues it will be a nightmare.

“I’m gonna have to tell every teacher who comes to me, you gotta report it whatever it is, don’t risk not reporting it," Smith noted, "I’m gonna have to tell every principal that. They’re gonna overwhelm law enforcement, they’re gonna overwhelm the state police. They’re gonna overwhelm the system, and it’s gonna take a lot of time, when they already have to report it. We already have a system that requires that we report, and it’s rarely abused, and I think this is a terrible mistake.”

Another Democrat, Delegate Shawn Fluharty of Ohio County, however fully supported the bill.

“This bill was fully, fully vetted in Judiciary," Fluharty said, "Every scenario under the sun was brought up, many of which were repeated today on the floor, and the protections were weighed; protections of the students that attend our schools and the protections of the teachers that run them. And we understand the value of protecting both of them, and we fully vetted it. As the bill is right now, the teacher sees something, they have a duty to report; duty to report to law enforcement. Many law enforcement are actually on campuses throughout our state, so their duty to report ends there. They report it to law enforcement, law enforcement then puts it in their hands because they’re well trained, established and know what to do with the facts.”

House Bill 2939 passed 86 to 9.

House Bill 2688, a bill related to forced pooling, caused a storm on the floor. When companies prepare to drill a well they create a giant rectangle of land parcels and then negotiate with each mineral owner within that rectangle for their gas rights.

The bill allows companies to pool the mineral owners within that rectangle together to purchase their mineral rights. If they can get 80 percent of the owners in their parcel to agree to the drilling, the bill allows for the drilling to occur without the consent of the other 20 percent. Those 20 percent, however, are still required to be paid for their proportion of the gas drilled.

Democrats and some Republicans are heavily against this bill because they say it forces eminent domain for economic development.  Delegate Pat McGeehan of Hancock County strongly opposes the legislation and to make his point, requested the clerk of the House read through the entire 43 page bill this Wednesday morning.

After an hour of reading, Speaker Armstead gave the house four hours to debate it. But after two hours of debate, the House approved the bill, 2688, to a vote of 60 to 40.


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