Over the weekend the House Judiciary Committee met to discuss a handful of bills, but most notably the bill to amend the concealed carry law and a bill that reforms political spending in the state.
Senate Bill 541 relates generally to the regulation and control of elections. Among the changes made in the House was the removal of all reporting requirements by third party organizations.
“Well the changes basically were, were at the request of some folks over at the Senate," said House Judiciary Chair, Delegate John Shott of Mercer County, "where my understanding was they had some second thoughts among the people that negotiated that bill, and this particular instance, we had information that some of the stakeholders thought, had second thoughts about that provision of the bill, and so when we came out with our strike and insert amendment, we removed that from the bill. All we’ve attempted to do with this bill was monitor, or mirror the federal laws and make it less complicated, because rather than having two standards, we’re trying to coordinate the two.”
Democratic Delegate Stephen Skinner of Jefferson County was not happy with the changes and wanted the bill to stay the way it was in the Senate version.
“It stripped out all the requirements for public disclosure of donors of dark money organizations. That’s one of the very good things that the Senate did, and it was done on a bi-partisan basis," noted Skinner, "This bill was presented to us in committee without any notice and it was rammed through. We asked for an additional day to take a look at the bill and understand what was in it, and we were voted down on party lines.”
Senator Mike Romano, a Democrat from Harrison County, worked closely with Republican leadership in the Senate to craft the strict reporting requirements. He was also upset by the changes made to the bill in the House and says he will vote against them.
“I’m very disappointed," Romano said, "The main compromise in that bill was to get disclosures of contributors to third party independent campaigns. Those are the very nasty commercials that we see every election season, and we thought that by getting those disclosures it would, you know, dampen down some of that negative rhetoric that seems to be polluting our elections. I don’t know why the House did that, but personally the bill was a compromise. The Democratic caucus did not want any increases in spending limits, and because we got those disclosures in it, we were willing to agree to the increase to the federal limits.”
Senate Majority Leader, Mitch Carmichael of Jackson County, says he doesn’t agree with the House’s changes either.
“It’s my understanding that the House has moved to protect the anonymous speech with regard to some of those campaign contributions to the third party entities," Carmichael explained, "There’s certainly a constitutional argument that can be made that disclosure is not required with those third party entities, but if you’re asking me for my personal perspective and from the sentiment within the Senate Chamber, it is my absolute conviction that more disclosure is better.”
Carmichael says he suspects if those amendments remain in the House’s version, the bill will likely enter a conference committee between both chambers to discuss the final outcome.
After a press conference Monday, Governor Tomblin said he too supported the stricter reporting requirements on outside spending.
“I think that those donors should be identified," Tomblin said, "You know, if I spend money on my campaigns, I have to say where I got the money, what it was used for, and who gave me that money, so, you know, I think that it should be the same way for those people. If they want to contribute that kind of money, they step forward and be identified.”
Another bill that came up over the weekend in the House Judiciary Committee was Senate Bill 347, removing the licensure requirement to carry a concealed handgun. The controversy over the bill amplified last week in a public hearing held in the House Chamber. Ultimately, the House made some amendments to the bill in committee, most notably in the age limit. In the House’s version, the age limit was increased from 18 to 21. This amendment was originally attempted by Senator Romano in the Senate, but failed.
Both Senator Romano and Carmichael say they are fine with the increase in the age limit and think it makes sense to make that change. However, Delegate Skinner says he still has some concerns with the bill in its entirety.
“Most West Virginians want a moderate approach to conceal and carry," Skinner said, "and repealing the need within the state to have a conceal carry training and license; that’s not moderate. And I think most West Virginians agree that we need to require some kind of training and a license for people to be able to carry a concealed weapon.”
Both bills will soon see the House floor for their consideration.