This week from Charleston
A rash of bad bills are winding their way through the Legislature. This past week, HB 2011, which modifies “Deliberate Intent” claims for worker injuries and deaths passed out of the House of Delegates. I am adamantly opposed to this bill and believe that it will lead to more injuries and deaths in the coal mines. West Virginia already has one of the highest injury and death rates for coal miners, and this change in the law will surely lead to more lax oversight. I am shocked that the law that allowed the Upper Big Branch miners’ families to bring suit against Don Blankenship is being gutted. We heard from many of those families at a public hearing on the bill, and it was gut-wrenching. The only people who spoke in favor of the bill were coal operators. This bill will not create one job, but it will put miners’ lives at risk.
Another controversial bill this week is the 20-week abortion ban. I sponsored an amendment to the bill to create an exception for rape and incest. The amendment was extremely narrow and patterned after the law in Louisiana, a state well-known for being pro-life. I had listened to the concerns from both the Health Committee and the Judiciary Committee and thought I had addressed all of the potential concerns about the exception. I thought wrong. While most people would view a rape and incest exception as extremely moderate, the amendment failed. Both of my colleagues from Jefferson County, Delegates Upson and Espinosa, voted against the amendment. Even with the amendment, the bill is simply unconstitutional. It clearly does not meet the requirements of Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, if the bill becomes law, the state will spend millions of dollars to defend it in court. Ironically, essentially the same bill was pulled from the agenda in the GOP-led Congress last month because the rape and incest exceptions did not go far enough.
One bill on which the entire Eastern Panhandle delegation agreed is to add another circuit judge to the Eastern Panhandle. A recent study showed that we have one of the greatest needs for another judge. Another point for us to consider is whether Jefferson County should break off from Berkeley and Morgan counties to become its own judicial circuit. The current circuit is one of the largest multi-county circuits in the state and could lead to some anomalies.