House Judiciary Committee votes against Defend the Guard Act

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee rejected a proposal requiring an official declaration of war or an act of the U.S. Congress before the West Virginia National Guard could participate in active duty combat.

The committee voted 21-4 against the Defend the Guard Act amid multiple concerns, including how the measure would impact federal funding and resources.

Lt. Col. Brian Abraham — who also serves as general counsel for the governor’s office — warned about the possible funding cuts during a Monday committee meeting.

“Right now, we get $380 million in federal funding matched by $13 million in state money. We believe that has a half a billion dollar indirect impact on the state of West Virginia,” he said.

Abraham pointed out the employment associated with the National Guard, including more than 1,000 members associated with the 167th Airlift Wing based in Martinsburg.

“352 of them are full-time members of that Air National Guard Unit,” he said.

The 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston has 400 full-time employees.

Delegate Pat McGeehan, the bill’s sponsor and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, said it’s unlikely the Trump administration would cut funding as a result of the law.

“I think that’s pretty absurd,” said McGeehan, R-Hanock.

McGeehan introduced the bill as the United States continues its involvement in international military affairs, such as conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“In the long term, the purposes of this bill is to force some sort of accountability on Washington, D.C.,” he added.

Multiple lawmakers spoke out against the measure; Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, said there are laws in place allowing the president to call National Guard units for assignments.

“We have a force now that is state-oriented, but then it also has a federal role as well. We can’t ignore that,” he said. “We can’t ignore federal law.”

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, noted similar concerns, stating the National Guard has to follow federal laws.

“We have heard a lot of laws that have been passed telling the Guard what it’s supposed to do,” she said.

McGeehan expressed disappointment following the vote, yet also a determination to get the Legislature to pass the measure.

“Many of my colleagues express fear because taking to task the top levels of the National Security Apparatus is not east. But it must be done,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned through this experience over the last several years is who your real friends are and who they are not.”

MetroNews’ Alex Thomas, Brad McElhinny and Jeff Jenkins contributed to this article.

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