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A number of bills were on the floor Tuesday from child welfare to the election of judges to the qualifications of the labor commissioner; all of them passed to their next stages without much of a hitch.
Eight bills were on the House Floor, and only House Bill 2200 was on third reading. This bill is to revise, rearrange, consolidate, and recodify the laws of the state relating to child welfare and juvenile disposition.
Judiciary chairman, Delegate John Shott, is the lead sponsor. He described the bill to be more user-friendly for those who have to deal with this area of law.
“There have been complaints for many years over how difficult it is to work in this area and how it can lead to misinterpretations, misunderstandings,” Shott noted, “and this is an effort that this bill, it’s got bipartisan support, it’s got widespread support among those who need to be able to navigate these complicated provisions of law, and Mr. Speaker I urge passage.”
House Bill 2200 passed 98 to 0.
The next five bills were on second reading; the amendment stage. First up was Senate Bill 13, which has to do with the liability of a possessor of real property for injuries caused by open and obvious hazards.
Delegate Shott proposed an amendment.
“The amendment that has been passed in the judiciary committee to modify the senate version, Senate Bill 13, basically recognizes a very limited exception to the open and obvious doctrine,” said Shott, “and that is where the danger on the landowner’s property is a violation of a law intended for the public safety, and that violation caused the injury, then in that narrow situation, the landowner is still responsible.”
Shott’s amendment passed and the bill progressed to third reading.
House Bill 2010 was up next. This bill relates to electoral reforms requiring the election of justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals, circuit court judges, family court judges, and magistrates to be on a nonpartisan basis.
Delegate Tim Manchin proposed an amendment that would extend public campaign financing to circuit court judges. It’s already in place for candidates for the Supreme Court.
“That program has worked. As a matter of fact, we have a current Supreme Court justice now who sits in the chamber upstairs because of this bill. It was a private project at the time, which is now been made permanent for Supreme Court judges,” Manchin explained, “The reason that I’ve offered this bill [amendment] is because, quite frankly, the only real reason to have nonpartisan judges, or the only stated reasons, are two; number one, so that there not beholden to anybody and they don’t appear to have partiality after they’ve been elected. Number two is to cut down on the cost of election, however if we miss this opportunity to extend the public campaign financing to those circuit court judges, we will leave in probably the greatest threat to the appearance of impartiality that there is, and that’s direct campaign contributions.”
Delegate Shott stood to oppose the amendment but in good faith.
“This is a good idea, and it’s an idea that it’s time may come, just not today,” Shott said, “I’m going to speak against this amendment not because I don’t think it’s a good idea, I think it’s where we want to be at some point, but I’m concerned that it complicates a bill whose focus is to take the first step, and that is to make these judicial elections nonpartisan.”
Delegate Manchin stood again to encourage the amendment be adopted.
“We have an opportunity right here to do something good right now and not wait until later, until all other kinds of people weigh in,” Manchin said, “and tell us all other reasons why the system won’t work, when in fact it already has.”
Delegate Manchin’s amendment was rejected 67 to 31, and House Bill 2010 moved on to third reading.
Also up for passage Wednesday will be House Bill 2217, relating to the qualifications of the Commissioner of Labor. The bill removes the term “labor interests of the state” and inserts language to require the commissioner to have knowledge and experience in employee issues and interests including employee-employer relations.