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At the Capitol March 2-6

By Staff | Mar 13, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -As the 2015 regular session of the Legislature moved toward its final week, the eighth week of the session marked the first time the Legislature has voted to override a gubernatorial veto in nearly 28 years.

The House voted 77-16 on Wednesday to override Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto of legislation imposing a ban on late-term abortions (HB2568). Two days later, the Senate voted 27-5 to override the veto, meaning the bill becomes law in spite of the governor’s objections.

In his veto message Tuesday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin cited constitutional issues with the bill, which was nearly identical to a bill he vetoed in 2014, after legal counsel advised it was unconstitutional. Each bill banned abortions after 20 weeks’ fetal gestation, while U.S. Supreme Court precedents limit states’ authority to restrict abortion to the point when fetuses are able to survive outside the womb, currently at about 24 weeks.

Tomblin said he had urged legislators to consider a compromise that would have passed constitutional muster, but noted in his veto message, “Having received a substantially similar bill to the one I vetoed last year on constitutional grounds, I must veto House Bill 2568.”

Margaret Chapman-Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, said the bill’s passage sets the stage for an expensive legal battle over the constitutionality of the abortion ban. “The idea of dragging taxpayers through an unconstitutional fight is unthinkable,” she said.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued a statement indicating his office is prepared to defend the late-term abortion ban in court.

“It is long-past time that limits are placed on abortions in West Virginia,” Morrisey said, adding, “While no one can predict with certainty how a court will rule, I believe that there are strong, good-faith arguments that this legislation is constitutional and should be upheld by the courts.”

Previously, the last time the Legislature overrode a governor’s veto was on May 29, 1987, after then-Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. vetoed the fiscal 1987-88 budget bill, with the House voting 68-29 and the Senate 25-9 to override the veto.

Also last week at the Legislature:

– A public hearing on a bill to repeal permit requirements to conceal carry handguns (SB347) drew a large crowd to the House chambers. The debate mainly pitted law enforcement and county officials, who want to retain the current requirements to obtain a concealed carry permit, against gun rights advocates.

Officers who testified raised public safety issues, including concerns about allowing persons under age 21 to carry concealed weapons without any gun safety training.

“I think this legislation is hostile to law enforcement,” Lt. Steve Cooper of the Charleston Police Department said.

Supporters of the repeal said the current law forces them to “buy back” their Second Amendment rights by paying a $100 license fee for the five-year concealed carry permits.

“This is a right we have,” Keith Owen Campbell of the West Virginia Citizens’ Defense League testified. “This is a right we shouldn’t have to pay for.”

Others testified that the permitting process, which requires background checks and completion of a gun safety course, is a common sense approach.

“It’s a constitutional right, everybody embraces that, but our constitutional rights are not without some regulation,” said Frank Hartman, lobbyist for the West Virginia Association of Counties.

The bill, which has passed the Senate 32-2, is in the House Judiciary Committee.

– A compromise bill revising state campaign finance regulations (SB541) passed the Senate on a 28-6 vote, but faces an uphill battle in the House. The bill would raise maximum candidate campaign contributions per election cycle from the current $1,000 to $2,700 – matching the federal maximum.

As originally drafted, however, the bill had no limits, and in a later version, would have allowed individual contributions of as much as $25,000 for statewide elected offices.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, who co-authored the compromise, told senators he held the original draft of the bill in “great distain,” but said the revised legislation would allow sunshine into an increasingly gray world of campaign finance.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the compromise not only puts reasonable caps on campaign contributions, but also expands disclosure on campaign contributions and expenditures, both for candidates and political action committees and other organizations.

– The House passed 60-40 a so-called forced pooling bill for horizontal drilling of Marcellus Shale gas fields (HB2688), a bill opponents say could force landowners to sell or lease their mineral rights for horizontal wells, which they said amounts to an illegal taking of property.

Proponents called the measure a jobs bill, and said it would assure the continuation of the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom in the state.

The bill is in Senate Judiciary Committee.