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County wants to rein in special elections

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A proposal to rein in weekend special elections is among the bills Kanawha County officials want to introduce to the West Virginia Legislature.

"It's a total waste of taxpayers' dollars to have an election every time you turn around," said Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper, who is pushing the bill as part of the county commission's yearly legislative agenda. "It's completely unnecessary."

Under the bill, which Carper said has the backing of Kanawha County lawmakers, it would no longer be legal to run a special levy election within six months of a regularly scheduled election, or to rerun a failed levy within one year of the original election. Carper said the intention of the bill is to encourage government agencies to put special elections on a regular election ballot.

School boards, cities and counties have often run special elections on Saturdays. Typically, fewer people turn out to vote for Saturday elections, and those who do tend to vote in favor of the levies.

However, the tactic backfired on Kanawha County school officials last month, when voters soundly defeated an excess school levy that would have provided about $3 million in funding to the county library system. The library levy was attached to a $24 million extra school levy.

School officials hoped the Saturday election and support for the library levy would carry the excess school levy, which came on the back of a $20 million excess school levy passed by voters last year. Instead, more than 76 percent of voters cast their ballots against the levy.

Carper said Saturday elections decrease voter turnout and are expensive. He said the school board's excess levy cost more than $350,000.

"Why can't elections like that be on a regular election cycle?" Carper asked.

He said Kanawha County's public safety levy, which provides money for bus and ambulance service and the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department, is always put on a regular election ballot. The levy, run by the Kanawha County Commission, is up again on the May primary ballot.

"It's worked for us," he said.

Kanawha County officials also want to introduce a bill banning transportation brokers for non-emergency medical transport.

Carper said lawmakers turned down a proposal last year to hire outside brokers to manage non-emergency transportation, but the Department of Health and Human Resources went ahead with a plan to take bids for transportation brokers.

Brokers are supposed to better manage Medicaid costs for non-emergency transportation, but ambulance service providers are against the idea. Kanawha County ambulance officials said they will have to cut services if brokers start managing non-emergency calls, and ambulance officials in many rural areas say they rely on money from non-emergency transportation to supplant their budgets.

Carper also wants to introduce a bill requiring that autopsy reports be made public in West Virginia. The bill would make written portions of the reports available to the public, but not autopsy photos or videos.

"It's public information," Carper said. "It has safeguards that make sense."

A recent study by the Connecticut General Assembly's Office of Legislative Research found 26 states have specific laws that talk about who can see autopsy reports and when. Public access to autopsy reports could help journalists or others find out the causes of death for those who died under mysterious circumstances, including while in police custody.

Such records are currently not public in West Virginia. States where at least portions of autopsy reports are considered public information include Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, Connecticut lawmakers found.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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