AND THEN AGAIN…….by Tamara Pettit

…….Saw a letter from Commissioner Eron Chek on Amendment 2 in a local newspaper.  She did a good job of explaining how she will vote yes on the amendment and why.    That puts her at odds with the County Commission Association which has come out against the amendment, but in agreement with the Republican leadership of the House and Senate and Governor Jim Justice.  While the Hancock County School Board cannot take political sides on an issue, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know how they feel about the reduction in their budget.

…..I’m voting no.  Because I really don’t trust the legislature not to totally screw this up.  Why would we relinquish  the power to decide on the amendment put forth before us.  It’s like signing a contract without reading the fine print and trusting the contractor will complete the work on your house based on his/her word.

……Speaking of the legislature, communication appears to be at an all-time low among the Republican leadership.  Speaker of the House, Roger Henshaw, announced the House would reconvene  the special session on Sept. 12 to resume action on  the abortion bill.   Now if the House of Delegates was a stand-alone body, they could get the job done.   But, West Virginia has a bi-cameral system and  the Senate is the other half of the equation and in quite simple terms, the Senate stopped talking to the House on July 29.  Can they do that?   They sure can and they did.

……Here’s how it happened,   The House passed the abortion bill and sent it to the Senate.   There were disagreements on the criminal penalties and exceptions for cases of rape or incest.  The Senate amended the bill to include their changes and communicated it to the House.   The House refused to concur and sent a message to the Senate that the House would approve a conference committee of five and the Senate needed to approve a conference committee of five.   But then the House went home.   And, the Senate did not receive (read) the message.  And, that where the bill stood……out there in Legislative purgatory…between Heaven and Hell depending on what you believe about abortion.

……Now the House Leadership, who sent their members home, have decided to come back into session.  What’s changed?  Well, all 100 members of the House are up for re-election and the body’s ability to address the issue may lose some votes of conservatives.   Communication between the House and Senate leadership took another hit when  Senate President Craig Blair revealed he only learned of the special session when he received a copy of Henshaw’s press release.  (That’s not cool and totally not the way  legislation  gets passed.)    It is, however,  a very effective way to waste tons of money.  Even though Speaker Henshaw is calling the House back during Interim Committee meetings, we all know the differences won’t be resolved in three days meaning paying legislators, per diem and staff salaries.

…..   We received the following statement from Senate President Blair …”to say I was shocked in an understatement  Communication is vital to ensuring government works in an efficient and productive manner.  While there has been communication on modification to House Bill 203 that would be acceptable to both chambers, to date no agreement has been reached.  Make no mistake, I am in complete support of legislation to save as many babies as possible.  However, I will not cause further chaos and disruption to the process or burden our taxpayers with unnecessary expenses by calling the Senators back into session without a concrete plan for producing a bill that has the votes to pass both chambers.”

……Why be in such a hurry to pass a bill on abortion prior to the Legislative Session in January?  Could in be that Legislators are pandering to a need to get something done before the election?  The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade and turned the issue back to the States.   West Virginia has had  a bill on the books  since the 1800’s that had not been enforced since Roe vs Wade in the seventies.  Whether that law can be amended or not is headed to the West Virginia Supreme Court.   Oral arguments on that issue won’t be held until the first of the year.    Let’s hope more rationale heads prevail in this standoff.

…….And, you know I couldn’t let this situation go by without retelling my own story about “trust issues” between the  Senate and House.   In the final moments of the Legislative Session back when I served, the House and Senate each had bills they wanted passed.  The late Bob Kiss was House Speaker and he agreed to accept and pass the Senate’s bill and Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin said that once the House passed the Senate bill, t the Senate would do the same with the House bill.    The clock was ticking and the Senate bill came to the House.  We accepted the message and passed the Senate bill.    The clock kept ticking down to midnight and no message came from the Senate that they had passed our bill.  Members of the House leadership gathered round the Speaker’s podium  as the clock neared midnight and their distress was so evident, I swear I could the beads of sweat gathering on their foreheads.   The final bell rang and we quickly came to the realization that the Senate has shoved it to us.  But,  Earl Ray have given his word, how could that be?

……..As Delegates  left the Chamber and entered into the rotunda in shock, I saw Louis Southworth, a partner in Jackson & Kelly law firm and a lobbyist for Mountaineer, standing with Mountaineer President Ted Arneault and other racetrack officials.   It was obvious in our naivete the House of Delegates has been snookered and I was calling the Senate leadership every bad name my mother had never let me say when Louis said “The House was sweating bullets  and Earl Ray and the boys are sitting in his office smoking cigarettes and drinking scotch while they laugh at you all.”  Lesson learned!