The West Virginia Senate passed a bill Thursday aimed at correcting a bill passed during last year’s legislative session. What was intended as a bill to help facilitate access to records ended up doing the exact opposite.
Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Senate Bill 495 aims to do what 2022’s Senate Bill 441 failed to do.
“The bill addresses, generally, the confidentiality of records necessary for the secure and safe management of inmates and residents committed to state correctional facilities and juvenile facilities,” Trump said. “This bill, if enacted, will make it clear that records remain available as consistent with the Freedom of Information Act.”
Trump explained on the Senate floor Thursday morning that last year’s Senate Bill 441 left their chamber in what he called “pretty good shape,” but returned to the Senate from the House of Delegates on the last night of the 2022 session with amendments; amendments that removed references to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
“The bill came back to us from the House on the last night of the session in a different form, and we concurred with the House amendment and passed the bill,” Trump said. “What I’ve been told since is that the Division of Homeland Security has been using our bill as a means to deny access to information. That was never our intention.“
Trump said that’s the opposite of the bill’s intent, and was originally designed to provide an extra mechanism for people to obtain records or information from correctional or juvenile facilities.
Trump said it was never his or the Senate’s intention to further restrict public access to information. He believes everything the government does should be accessible and transparent to the public.
“The general rule, my philosophy, is that government should be transparent at all levels,” Trump said. “It is, after all, a government that belongs to the people. The people are sovereign in our system, and they make the decisions, they inform us and tell us how they want us to represent them. But this government belongs to the people, and so the general rule should always be that the more information that’s available to the people, the better.”
Trump conceded that the new bill could have been avoided if he had acted last year, and offered his apologies to the body for having a law enacted in what he called an “insufficient form.”
“I would be less than candid if I didn’t admit or confess and say that I should have caught the change,” Trump said. “When it came back from the House last year, on the last day of the session, I missed it and consequently, the bill that got enacted was different from what we were hoping to achieve when we launched it to the House of Delegates last year. I’m hoping we’re gonna get that corrected this year.”
Senate Bill 495 now heads to the House of Delegates for its consideration.