CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates had a busy second week of February, passing 15 bills, bringing the total number of bills passed by the chamber this year to 42.
The House has so far passed 36 House bills and six Senate bills. Additionally, the House voted Friday to override Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s vetoes of Senate Bill 1, establishing the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act, and House Bill 4005, repealing prevailing wage requirements.
“We recognize that moving our state forward requires bold action, and that is exactly what the Legislature took in passing these bills,” House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha said of the bills Thursday.
Friday also marked the 31st day of the 2016 session, meaning lawmakers are now past the halfway point of the 60-day session.
Among the most intensely debated items this week:
House Bill 4145, Relating to carry or use of a handgun or deadly weapon, passed the House 68-31 on Monday.
Sponsors: Delegates Blair (R-Berkeley), Azinger (R-Wood), Butler (R-Mason), Cadle (R-Mason), Eldridge (D-Lincoln), Householder (R-Berkeley), Marcum (D-Mingo), Overington (R-Berkeley), Phillips (D-Logan), Sobonya (R-Cabell) and Upson (R-Jefferson).
Nicknamed “Constitutional Carry,” the bill would allow West Virginians 21 and older to carry a firearm in a concealed manner without a permit, so long as certain conditions are met. Those between ages 18 and 21 would still need to obtain a permit.
If it becomes law, West Virginia would join seven other states – Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Maine Vermont and Wyoming – which do not require permits for residents to carry concealed firearms.
Similar legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature last year, but was vetoed by the Governor after the legislative session had ended.
House Bill 4012, the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed Thursday on a 72-26 vote after more than two hours of debate.
Sponsors: Delegates O’Neal (R-Raleigh), Speaker Armstead (R-Kanawha), Hanshaw (R-Clay), Moye (D-Raleigh), Fast (R-Fayette), A. Evans (R-Grant), Azinger (R-Wood), Waxman (R-Harrison), Romine (R-Tyler), Rowan (R-Hampshire) and Phillips (D-Logan).
The bill will give state courts a balancing test that guides judges in considering cases alleging that the action of a governmental body has violated a citizen’s deeply held religious belief.
It is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and establishes a four-part balancing test for courts to use in cases where a person believes their exercise of religion is substantially burdened by state action, that being: 1.) Does a person have a sincerely held religious belief? 2.) Has it been substantially burdened by government? 3.) Does government have a compelling interest to substantially burden that belief? 4.) Has government exhausted all other means to achieve its goals without infringing on that belief?
“No West Virginian should be left defenseless when a government attempts to force them into violating their deeply-held beliefs,” said House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan. “This law will simply guarantee our citizens will have a fair hearing in court if they believe the government has gone too far.”
Looking ahead, on Monday the House will vote on several bills, including two that could help spur business growth and job creation in the state:
House Bill 4228, Relating to transportation network companies, is up for third reading.
Sponsors: House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles (R-Morgan) and Delegates B. White (R-Kanawha), Shott (R-Mercer), Espinosa (R-Jefferson), E. Nelson (R-Kanawha), Howell (R-Mineral), Upson (R-Jefferson), Trecost (D-Harrison), Reynolds (D-Cabell), Gearheart (R-Mercer) and Hamrick (R-Harrison)
The bill will allow transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to do business in West Virginia and provide guidelines for their operations.
A similar bill was introduced last year but did not pass by the end of the session due to several issues, including concerns regarding insurance, Division of Motor Vehicles registration and taxi deregulation. Cowles said all prior issues were addressed by lawmakers during interim committee meetings over the past year.
“This is a booming business model that has caught on with residents of other states,” Cowles said. “It’s become so popular that visitors to our state expect this service to be available when they come here. Passing this bill will remove the barrier for entry to our state, create jobs, and give business travelers and tourists access to the same convenient transportation services they experience in other states.”
House Bill 2615, the West Virginia Small Business Capital Act, is also up for third reading.
Sponsors: Delegates Patrick Lane (R-Kanawha), Larry Faircloth (R-Berkeley), Carol Miller (R-Cabell) and Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha)
The purpose of the bill is to exempt the offer and sale of certain securities from the Uniform Securities Act.
If passed, it would allow entrepreneurs to engage in “crowdfunding” for business startup and expansion projects.
“One of the biggest hurdles for small business growth is the ability to raise capital,” Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said. “This bill will help our job creators raise the critical funds they need to bring their innovations to life.”