CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This could be an anticlimactic final week of the 2013 legislative session, given that one of the two key bills on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's agenda, public education reform (HB359), passed the Legislature more than two weeks ago.
However, experience suggests the session will go to midnight Saturday -- even if the last couple of hours are devoted to reading resolutions.
Here's where bills of interest stand going into the final days of the session:
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* Prison overcrowding (SB371). The governor's other key bill this session, and the product of a nearly year-long study by the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments. Rest assured that a somewhat tweaked version of the bill will pass by Saturday.
The key objections seem to come from House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, primarily over provisions for six months' early release with supervision for currently incarcerated non-violent offenders; and from House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, over provisions giving additional authority to the state Supreme Court, including overseeing a multi-disciplinary Community Supervision Committee.
Those issues look like minor tweaks, not major overhauls, and as of Friday, there seemed to be a compromise agreed to, though not yet in writing.
Bottom line: If they don't pass the bill, the state is going to have to build one and maybe two prisons at a cost of $250 million to $600 million in the long-term. Short-term, they risk the likelihood of a major violent episode at one of the prisons or regional jails, and/or court orders for outright release of inmates at overcrowded facilities.
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* Continuing municipal home rule (SB435). Legislation to continue and expand the successful home rule pilot project seemed to be sailing along -- until it reached amendment stage on the House floor Friday.
The bill was laid over Friday because of several GOP amendments pending, the most glaring of which is an amendment by Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, that would put the contents of the dead bill to nullify municipal gun ordinances (HB2760) into the home rule bill.
It's those kinds of backhanded tactics that contribute to people's low opinion of legislators. Senate leadership has made clear they are not going to pass legislation to nullify gun regulations in Charleston and three other cities, so all Lane's amendment could hope to accomplish is to kill an innovative program to give cities additional powers of self-governance.
It seems particularly shameful that Lane would attempt such a ploy just two days after the tragic handgun murder of Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, but some legislators' desire to suck up to the gun lobby knows no bounds.