Bipartisan delegates seek special session on water; House speaker disagrees

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A group of 24 delegates from the state House asked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to call a special session to consider the water-contamination crisis.

Delegate Meshea Poore (D-Kanawha), who was leading the effort, penned a letter to Tomblin claiming the additional debate is crucial in the aftermath of last month’s chemical spill in the Elk River.

“If, in fact, we proceed with ‘business as usual,’ we will miss a golden opportunity to produce legislation that will instill a renewed sense of confidence in the administrative and legislative branches of West Virginia’s governance structure,” Poore wrote. “Placing (the water bill) on the call will provide ample and appropriate vetting opportunities by the respective committees; thus resulting in sound public policy.”

Poore’s request came Thursday evening as she and other members of the House Judiciary Committee began considering a detailed bill that creates a regulatory program for above-ground storage facilities, like the one that leaked chemicals at Freedom Industries Jan. 9, touching off the water emergency in nine counties.

The Senate passed the bill earlier in the session. The House is beginning work on the bill with less than 10 days left in the regular session.

Judiciary Committee Chair Tim Manchin (D-Marion) called Poore’s request premature and distracting.

“Between the House Health and Judiciary Committees, members have probably spent more than 20 hours in hearings, debating and listening to numerous experts about Senate Bill 373,” Manchin said. “We have over a week before the end of this session, and the House Judiciary Committee is beginning today to discuss the proposed committee amendment to the legislation.”

House Speaker Tim Miley agreed with Manchin, claiming the bill will be effectively considered during the regular session.

“The discussion of the need of a special session is unnecessary as the bill is moving though our committee process in a timely manner,” Miley said. “I regret that these members want to give up on passing a bill during the regular session when we still have plenty of time to perfect it.”

Manchin said the committee would be working on the bill Friday and Sunday also.

Yet Poore claimed her request had bipartisan backing.

“The support of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle illustrates the fact that this is not a political or partisan issue,” Poore said. “This is about protecting our constituents.”

Supporters said the special session could be held immediately following the March 8 completion of the regular session. The next week will be an extended session to address the state budget.

“Legislators remain in town while the budget conferees are working, so holding a special session on the water protection legislation during that period would be at no additional cost to the taxpayers,” said Cabell County Del. Kelli Sobonya (R-Cabell). “That way, we can really take some time to deliberate outside the hectic regular session.”

Poore said she and Judiciary Committee Chairman Mark Hunt are willing to meet with the governor.

The House announced Thursday the 23 other members who joined Poore in requesting a special session:

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead
Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor
Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha
Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha
John McCuskey, R-Kanawha
Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha
Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha
Ron Walters, R-Kanawha
Danny Wells, D-Kanawha
Troy Andes, R-Putnam
Carol Miller, R-Cabell
Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln
Josh Barker, D-Lincoln
David Walker, D-Clay
Jim Butler, R-Mason
Clif Moore, D-McDowell
Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson
Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia
Ted Tomblin, D-Logan
Bob Ashley, R-Roane
Linda Phillips, D-Wyoming
Steve Westfall, R-Jackson
John Shott, R-Mercer

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