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Statehouse beat: From impending doom to long shot

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At one point during the session, Timberline Resort co-owner Fred Herz sought me out in a panic over a bill to authorize a rural resort casino for a proposed development on the site of the Highlands golf course near Franklin in Pendleton County (SB492).

He was convinced the bill was a done deal, and talked of big-time investors (LGI Land Ltd., out of Texas), powerful lobbyist (Nick Casey), back-room politics and "fat possums."

Herz seemed exacerbated that I did not share his concerns over the bill. I pointed out at the time it had to get through two House committees, a floor vote in a House that with 46 Republican members is far from gambling-friendly (just ask the management of Wheeling Island casino), then through a House-Senate conference committee and additional passage votes in both houses.

In other words, what Herz saw as impending doom looked to me like a long-shot pipe dream.

(I also told him it wasn't a fat possum, since that terminology refers to a substantive amendment snuck into a bill late in the session unbeknownst to all but to leadership ... a practical impossibility with today's technologies.)

The bill died Wednesday, stuck in House Finance Committee, and that evening, Herz sought me out to apologize for questioning my read on the bill.

***

For the record, 1,829 bills were introduced this session. Going into the waning hours of the session, 1,523 of those bills were effectively dead; 82 bills had passed and been sent to the governor; and of the 224 active bills, about one-third were rule-making review bundles or supplemental appropriations.

A far wiser observer of state politics than myself, Roger Tompkins, opined that the beauty of the legislative process is that it is designed to kill bills, not pass them.

So while some publications were filled with headlines day after day on, for instance, the bill to repeal tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike (HB3163), some of us who've been to the dance before realized we'd heard that tune over and over, and knew nothing would come of it. ... Although in recent years, the order had been reversed, with the Senate passing the toll ban, and the House letting it die.

(Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, probably should thank the Turnpike Authority for his last couple of re-elections, running stronger in Mercer County than Mingo...)

***

Of course, good bills are lost in the process. Two that come to mind this session include SB584, a pre-trial release bill defeated primarily because lobbyists for bail bondsmen indicated that releasing low-risk defendants without bond would hurt their "industry."

Likewise, the outcomes-based funding for higher education (SB326), which would have rewarded colleges and universities for meeting goals for student retention and graduation, died at the behest of those institutions that would have lost funding because they are not able to meet those standards.

***

If they gave a Legislator of the Session award, safe to say Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, would not be in the running for it at this point.

Besides pandering to the gun lobby with a purported Second Amendment bill that actually has nothing to do with gun rights but would attempt to force Charleston to repeal an ordinance that has served the city well with few objections for two decades, Lane also pandered to anti-abortion advocates by attempting to amend the state budget to eliminate state funding for Medicaid coverage of abortions.

As a lawyer and a legislator in his fifth term, Lane had to know it is unconstitutional to use the budget bill to affect state policy.

Speaking of the gun ordinance nullification bill (HB2760), our Wetzel County correspondent, H. John Rogers advises that the West Virginia Citizen Defense League rally against Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, in New Martinsville was a bust.

(A photo in the Wetzel Chronicle would seem to support Rogers' assertion, showing about a dozen people at the roadside rally, although the cutline indicates about 80 people participated.)

Rogers said it appeared most of protesters were from out-of-town, and that he saw only one other Wetzel Countian.

Meanwhile, Rogers brought a protest sign which sign read, "I prefer my Kessler in a bottle," referring to the brand of whiskey.

***

Finally, Bill Maloney, who may go down in state history as the only person to lose two gubernatorial elections in consecutive years, stopped by the Capitol pressroom last week after staying in town overnight to judge an FBLA contest.

Maloney made an interesting observation, noting that he had gone out for a morning jog along Kanawha Boulevard, and was taken aback that there was no one else out jogging or walking - completely opposite of what he's experienced on the equivalent running area in Morgantown, the Caperton Trail along the mighty Mon...

I advised there are more joggers on the Boulevard on evenings and weekends, including me, slogging along from time to time.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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