A bill requiring an official declaration of war from U.S. Congress to deploy members of the West Virginia National Guard overseas remains inactive, despite a robust conversation on the West Virginia House floor Tuesday.
Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, is the lead sponsor behind House Bill 2732, otherwise dubbed the “Defend the Guard Act.” McGeehan has proposed such an act every year since being elected to the House in 2015.
This year’s bill, which carried over from last year after the House failed to vote on it, was referred to two committees for consideration before the full House can vote on it.
McGeehan unsuccessfully requested on Tuesday that the House vote to discharge his bill from its first committee reference, in Veteran Affairs and Homeland Security, to its second committee reference in Judiciary. In his remarks to the rest of the House, McGeehan said his bill was on an agenda of bills to be considered in the Veteran Affairs and Homeland Security Committee last week but was removed by the request of the “powers that be.”
Del. Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, chairs the House Veteran Affairs and Homeland Security Committee. He confirmed he did pull the bill from last week’s agenda. He said he plans to reschedule it on next week’s committee agenda.
“War is the most serious, serious operation, [the most] serious enterprises that a government could engage in,” McGeehan said. “And, quite rightly so, the founders saw it fit to vest that power within the legislative branch so that it can be openly debated.”
Lawmakers ultimately voted 50-50 to keep McGeehan’s bill in Veteran Affairs & Homeland Security.
Del. Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, noted that the bill has come up several times before. He urged other delegates to approve McGeehan’s request.
“He gets no respect,” Sponaugle said of McGeehan. “Some of you may like him, some of you may not like him. But the ideas that he likes expressing deserve debate, and getting buried in a minor committee and never seeing daylight is not a way to debate the issue.”
Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, disagreed with Sponaugle, saying committee references are a part of the legislative process.
“All of us have bills that don't make it on an agenda,” Steele said. “The point is that all of us have issues that we're passionate about, that we wait for leadership to put on an agenda. This is not the place to push your own agenda. This is a body that deliberates. … I find it very disingenuous, and very hypocritical.”
A “Defend the Guard Act” has come up from McGeehan in every session, every year since he was elected to the House of Delegates in 2015. This year’s bill is a carryover from the 2019 session. Before that, he introduced House Bill 2168 in 2015 and House Bill 2377 in 2017.
Bibby said after the floor session Tuesday he had removed House Bill 2732 from last week’s committee meeting agenda after hearing concerns from the West Virginia National Guard that the passage of such legislation could endanger their relationship with federal National Guard leaders.
Bibby — who voiced support for McGeehan’s bill in comments made before the discharge vote — said he plans to add the item back to his committee’s agenda next week. He also said he would introduce his own House resolution, calling on Congress to declare war before deploying West Virginia National Guard troops.
The National Guard’s Public Information Office declined to comment on McGeehan’s bill.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.