|Senate Judiciary had a dozen bills on its afternoon agenda on Wednesday, the last day to get bills out of committee so they have a full three days for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd reading on the floor. Anything less than 3 days requires a 2/3 vote of the full body to suspend the rules.
The committee passed a strike & insert amendment for committee substitute for HB 4123, relating to 911 telecommunication workers. It provides that emergency telephone systems be staffed with trained individuals and that telecommunication workers be considered first responders. The strike and insert also incorporates the provisions of Committee Substitute for SB 649, permitting directors of county emergency phone systems to obtain mobile phone emergency lines and enter into service provider contracts.
A spirited debate ensued on strike & insert amendment for Committee Substitute for HB 2088, which ultimately passed. The bill would allow, in certain situations, admission of evidence in a civil action of the use or nonuse of a safety belt regarding issues of negligence, contributory negligence, comparative negligence and failure to mitigate damages. The bill would require a causal relationship between the use or nonuse of a safety belt and alleged injuries or death. Senator Romano stated that only 9 states allow this type of evidence to be admissible and offered an amendment that this evidence would not be admissible for minors who are passengers. The amendment passed.
Asked by Senator Romano who the stakeholders are for the bill, counsel stated, “Toyota, WV Insurance Federation, and American Tort Reform,” and Senator Romano asked for one to speak to the bill. The President of the WV Insurance Federation stated that allowing the nonuse of seatbelts as evidence is just emerging to explain why so few states have adopted this law.
The West Virginia Sentencing Commission is created in the strike & insert amendment for committee substitute for HB 4004, which passed the committee. It establishes the commission as a standing subcommittee of the Governor’s Committee on Crime, Delinquency and Correction and requires a report to be provided to the Legislature.
Strike & insert amendment for Committee Substitute for HB 2419 authorizes the release of a person charged with a criminal violation when first appearing before a judicial officer. A judicial officer shall release a person charged with a misdemeanor offense on their own recognizance unless charged with certain specified offenses. The intent is for magistrates to release more people on personal recognizance bonds rather than keep them in jail. Under certain conditions the arrested person is entitled to the least restrictive bail conditions determined to be reasonably necessary to assure appearance and safety.
Senator Clements noted that the goal of the bill is to try to get some of these nonviolent offenders out of jail and save money for counties. Amendments offered by Senator Woelfel & Senator Weld passed. A spokesperson for the WV Bail Association cautioned the committee that taking away discretion from magistrates would be a mistake. In response to the bail representative, Senator Clements said, “There are cases where the county commission would be ahead to pay the bail bond rather than the jail fee. All we are trying to do is get the nonviolent misdemeanors out of jail.” Several senators said they will reluctantly support the bill, but it needs more work & study. The bill passed.
Senate Judiciary finished a long evening with passage of HB 4585, which explicitly provides immunity from civil or criminal liability for individuals providing information or assistance, including medical evaluations or consultations in connection with a report, investigation, or legal intervention based on a good faith report of child abuse or neglect. According to a DHHR spokesperson, this very specific language makes sure that WV immunity act complies with federal law.