Duncan Slade Published

Streaming Issues, Lawsuit Threat Sends Bills To House Tech Committee For Second Time

Tech & Infrastructure meeting

A number of bills were sent back to a West Virginia House of Delegates committee meeting for a second debate Thursday after technology issues prompted a state group to threaten legal action

In a letter, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) threatened to sue the House for a “blatant violation” of the open meetings act after the audio stream was unavailable or inaudible for a Wednesday morning meeting of the House Technology and Infrastructure Bill.

“When in-person access to the Capitol is restricted, it is more important than ever to ensure that the public may remain informed through the limited channels available,” wrote ACLU-WV legal director Loree Stark.

According to the ACLU-WV letter, committee members and staff were notified but the meeting continued in violation of the Open Meetings Act. The act requires government meetings remain open to the public.

During the meeting, the committee debated measures on water authorities, social media censorship, and Department of Motor Vehicle protocols.

After the lawsuit threat, the House recommitted the bills to the tech committee for a Thursday afternoon meeting and they were swiftly passed without debate.

“Staff members had been attempting to correct technology issues that were affecting sound quality this week, but when we became aware audio from a meeting was unusable, we made the decision to recommit the affected legislation and allow them to be debated again in committee for the benefit of the public,” said House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay.

The ACLU-WV is still reviewing the committee’s move to advance the bills a second time and has not made a decision on potential litigation, said communications director Billy Wolfe in an email Thursday.

The organization’s initial letter gave 30 days notice of litigation that would seek to nullify any decisions made during Wednesday’s meeting that was beset with audio issues.

The midweek saga shows the hurdles between the public’s input and legislators during a session with restricted access due to the pandemic.

Before the session, 40 different advocacy groups across the state signed a letter with six recommendations for ensuring public access to legislators.

Among their demands were access to legislators in a safe manner, such as virtual office hours, public hearings, and the posting of agendas before meetings.

Several public hearings have been held on bills before the legislature, such as water standards, the income tax repeal plan, and others.