Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ruling Party Kills Sex Offender Bill, Almost Reopens DUI No Contest Loophole

The 2006 regular legislative session just adjourned and West Virginians will find much to have been desired from their leaders.

The night ended with a dramatic vote in the state Senate that killed SB 205, the sex offender bill. Last week, the Senate voted 28-5 to adopt a Republican substitute that instituted mandatory prison sentences for all rapists and child molesters. After initial hesitation, the House of Delegates agreed to almost everything in the Senate bill. After several minutes of debate, the Senate voted 23-11 at 11:56 P.M. to reject the House amendment to SB 205 and the bill thus died.

Three Democratic senators joined most of the Republicans to oppose the motion of Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, to refuse to concur to the House amendment to SB 205. Unfortunately, five Republicans also broke ranks; however, the motion would have still carried even if party discipline had held. The three Democratic senators who voted the right way were Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, Shirley Love, D-Fayette, and Randy White, D-Webster. The five Republican crossovers were Frank Deem, R-Wood, Karen Facemeyer, R-Jackson, Charles Lanham, R-Mason, Andy McKenzie, R-Ohio, and John Yoder, R-Jefferson.

Earlier in the evening, the Senate amended and passed HB 4308, reopening a dangerous loophole in our DUI law that would have allowed drunk drivers to plead no contest to the criminal case and be able to contest the revocation of their driver's license before an administrative hearing at the DMV. Current law says that a conviction bars a hearing since the same facts supporting the administrative action were proven under a tougher burden of proof in a criminal case. HB 4308 appears to have died after the House further amended the bill and the Senate failed to concur before adjournment.

With the Senate's flip-flopping on protecting the women and children of West Virginia from sexual predators, Republicans now have a golden opportunity to take control of both houses of the Legislature in November. Tonight's action merely caps a session in which the Ruling Party has also rejected abolishing or even further reducing the food tax; amending the state constitution to protect the definition of marriage from assault by activist judges; closing a loophole in the law requiring a minor to notify her parents before obtaining an abortion that allows any doctor other than the abortionist to issue a waiver with no independent judicial oversight; or reducing state income taxed by raising the personal exemptions for all taxpayers.