Friday, February 10, 2006

Senator Shirley Love: Oops! Should Have Read My Own Bill

Proving the infinite wisdom of always reading any bill before introducing it in the Legislature or voting on the passage of the bill, state Senator Shirley Love, D-Fayette, admitted today he had failed to understand his own bill (SB 437) to create several new series of state license plates.

The most controversial aspect of this bill was a provision to replace the state's "scenic" license plate with a plate showing the New River bridge in Fayetteville with Governor Manchin's new "Open for Business" slogan. After just about everyone in West Virginia ridiculed this idea, Love decided to read his own bill and finally admitted that he really meant to create the "Open for Business" plate as an additional optional plate rather than a replacement for the popular scenic plate--at least that's his current story.

Now, I will be one of the first to tell you the legislative bill drafters often poorly write the introductory versions of bills. But how did someone mistake Senator Love's original idea if that was indeed what he had proposed to the bill drafters? Why did Senator Love not bother to read his own bill before signing his name to it & introducing it, knowing the seemingly less significant issues like this are always the ones that most easily irritate average voters?

Reading the original version of this bill as introduced, even the bill title should have been enough to tell the senator what the bill would do. Reading the full text of the bill, there should have been no mistake that the original version of the bill changed the scenic plate design and did not create a new plate as Senator Love claims.

Now, Senator Love has had SB 437 amended in committee to preserve the current scenic license plate design and create the New River bridge/"Open for Business" license plate as a separate, optional plate. We are still left to wonder what were his true original intentions, given the long delay between the onset of the controversy and Senator Love's action to correct the bill. After all, why did it take nearly two weeks to discover this "error?"

House of Delegates Votes to Ban Photo Radar, Red Light Cameras

The West Virginia House of Delegates today passed HB 4004, preempting the use of photo enforcement of traffic laws, on a vote of 88-3. Delegates Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, Tom Louisos, D-Fayette, and Charles Trump, R-Morgan, opposed the bill.

While neither photo radar nor red light cameras are used in West Virginia, supporters of the bill want to prevent towns eyeing motorists' wallets from following the lead of several cities in Ohio and Maryland that have recently begun using these devices. Try imagining photo radar in Summersville--Yikes! Last year, the Virginia General Assembly allowed a red light camera enabling law to sunset and will likely not reauthorize the program.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

GOP Legislators Seek Tax Reforms Now

While the Ruling Party spends this regular legislative session marking time and hopelessly trying to figure out how to retain their control of the Legislature in this year's elections, Republican legislators who are within striking distance of winning majorities in both houses are seeking to have real issues addressed during the 30 days remaining in this year's legislative session.

Today's case in point is the issue of taxes, as reported by the Beckley Register-Herald.

Republican legislators in both houses have offered over a dozen bills to cut state taxes and/or totally reform the state tax code. Bills have been offered in both houses to implement the comprehensive tax reform proposed in 1999 by Governor Underwood's Commission on Fair Taxation; to abolish the food tax; to abolish the business franchise tax; to reduce corporate income taxes; to reduce personal income taxes.

A bill to abolish the hated "motor vehicle privilege tax" that charges 5% of a car's value not only at the time a car is first bought as a new car but every time it is sold, transferred, or brought into West Virginia from another state, and replaced with the one-time occurrence of the sales tax at the time of initial purchase without the current multiple taxation, will soon be offered. This tax is especially odious because the same piece of personal property is repeatedly taxed although virtually every other class of personal property is subjected to a sales tax only once--at the time it is first purchased by the initial consumer.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

House of Delegates Votes to Reopen DUI Loophole

With no shame and dissent from not even a majority of the Republicans, the House of Delegates voted on Monday to pass HB 4308, which would reopen a loophole in West Virginia's DUI law that the state Supreme Court closed last year. Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for the vote.

This bill would allow a person who pleads no contest to a DUI in criminal court to contest the revocation of his or her driver's license at an administrative hearing before the DMV. The administrative hearing is a civil matter and carries a lower burden of proof than the criminal case. Under current law, a conviction for a DUI is binding upon the DMV and there may be no hearing, as the same facts have already been proven in a court of law. The DMV may, however, revoke a person's license for DUI at a civil administrative hearing based upon a preponderance of the evidence--rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt--even in the absence of a conviction on the criminal charges.

Allowing a person who has been convicted of a DUI via a no contest plea both stands the law on its head (the underlying facts in support of the license revocation have already been proven in another venue under a tougher burden of proof) and will endanger public safety by allowing drunk drivers who know how to play the system to remain behind the wheel. The best DUI defense lawyers know how to make the proper arrangements for the arresting officer to not appear at an administrative hearing, which results in a default ruling for their client.

Prosecutors want convictions in court; many DUI defendants just want to keep their driver's license. Thus, a symbiotic relationship forms, perverting our legal system and neutering the most substantial penalty for a drunk driver not facing a felony charge--the loss of a driver's license and a mandatory 6-month jail sentence if he or she drives while his or her driver's license is revoked for DUI. Subpoenas to appear at hearings go undelivered, an unplanned vacation day is offered to the officer after a few well-placed phone calls, or an officer is sent on an out-of-town assignment without notice to the DMV. In any of those cases, the defendant--even one who has pleaded no contest to the criminal charge, if HB 4308 passes--wins and keeps his or her driver's license as if he or she were not guilty.

Unfortunately, this bill will probably also pass the Senate.