Lawmakers list redistricting in topics for study

Charleston Gazette (WV) - Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Author: Phil Kabler Staff writer

Creating an independent commission for legislative and congressional redistricting and revising eligibility requirements for candidates on state election ballots are two of the 131 topics to be studied by legislative interim committees this year, in preparation for the 2013 regular session. 

The Joint Committee on Government and Finance - the high-ranking interim committee made up of House and Senate leadership - approved the study topics Monday without discussion. 

After a particularly contentious round of redistricting that led to six separate legal challenges - including a case pending appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court - the Senate passed a resolution (SCR69) March 9 calling for an interim study on the possibility of having an independent, nonpartisan commission redraw districts in the future. 

On Monday, Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said the review probably will not begin until after the Supreme Court rules on the state's appeal of a federal district court panel's decision that overturned the Legislature's congressional redistricting plan as unconstitutional. 

"It's something that could get picked up in the second half of the interim sessions," Kessler said. 

Expectations are that the Supreme Court will issue its decision on the appeal later this summer or fall. 

"We'd still have four or five months to take that up, and maybe take up any issues the court's decision may raise," Kessler said of the proposal for an independent commission, which will be assigned to a Judiciary interim subcommittee. 

Ultimately, the Legislature could have longer to study the issue, since the next round of redistricting won't take place until 2021. Since redistricting is set out in the state Constitution, establishing an independent commission would require that a majority of voters approve a constitutional amendment. 

Another interim study approved Monday came from another Senate resolution (SCR86), to review candidate eligibility on election ballots. 

Although the resolution specifically addresses eligibility for state Senate candidates - and was prompted by former Sen. Frank Deem's since-rebuked attempt to get on the 2012 primary ballot - interim committee members may want to expand the study, following the uproar over Texas prison inmate Keith Judd's appearance on the state Democratic primary ballot as a presidential candidate. 

The wording of the resolution may provide that leeway, stating, "The study should address the most effective means for confirming the eligibility of candidates for office, and the measures, if any, the secretary of state should take to ensure eligible candidates are on the ballot, and ineligible candidates are not." 

Kessler and House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, submitted the list of interim study topics based on legislation proposed or resolutions adopted during the 2012 regular session, and added a number of additional topics, including continuing studies from past interims. 

Among those, the Oversight Committee on Regional Jails and Corrections will continue studying ways to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. 

Other topics of study approved Monday include: 

* Implementing a safety policy for high school athletes who sustain concussions during games or practices (HCR128). Legislation that would have required the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to draft such safety regulations died at the end of the regular session over a dispute on whether volunteer team physicians should be given legal immunity. 

* The West Virginia Buy America Act. The act, which would require contractors on state-funded construction projects to use all U.S.-made building materials and supplies, died in the regular session over cost concerns. 

* Developing a coordinated approach to deal with the state's epidemic of obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases. 

* Restricting or banning persons under 18 from using indoor tanning facilities and tattoo parlors. 

* Expanding the state Freedom of Information Act to include personal emails sent or received by public officials via their governmental email accounts (SCR91).