West Virginia Joins Voter ID States

by | April 4, 2016

By Eric Eyre

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed 19 bills Friday that West Virginia lawmakers passed at the end of the 60-day legislative session, including several measures that would have lifted various gun restrictions.

The governor cited technical errors as the reason for many of the vetoes.

Tomblin also signed into law an equal number of bills, most notably legislation that requires voters to show identification when they go to the polls. The new voter ID rules won't take effect this election year.

Friday was the last day to act on bills passed during this year's legislative session, which ended March 12.

Among Tomblin's vetoes:

| A bill (HB 4307) that would have allowed people to carry firearms in state parks, state forests and other state recreational areas. In his veto message, Tomblin said the legislation had a technical error because the bill's title neglected to mention how it affects wildlife management areas and state rail trails.

| Another firearms bill (SB 272) that aimed to allow investigators with Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office and the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration to carry concealed weapons. Tomblin said the ABCA opposed the bill. ABCA investigators receive backup from West Virginia State Police troopers, according to the veto message.

"In the interest of public safety, it is hereby vetoed," Tomblin wrote.

Morrisey criticized Tomblin for the veto.

"Amazingly, Gov. Tomblin signed nearly identical legislation in 2013 regarding both the Office of the Secretary of State and the Commission on Special Investigations, but made the decision not to afford our investigators the same potentially lifesaving protections," the attorney general said in a prepared statement. "This was a bipartisan bill that enjoyed nearly unanimous support in the Legislature, and these protections were strongly backed by our federal law enforcement partners."

| A measure (HB 2110) that would have expanded a longstanding manufacturing tax credit to gun and ammunition makers. In his veto message, Tomblin called the special tax credit "fiscally imprudent." Tomblin also noted that other small manufacturers in the state have made greater investments and haven't received the same tax breaks.

| Legislation (SB 102) that would have allowed county prosecutors to carry concealed weapons and arrest people at county courthouses.

"The proper role of prosecutors is to represent the state in criminal proceedings," Tomblin wrote in his veto message. "Their job should not entail arresting suspects in county courthouses and being conflicted out of prosecuting them."

Tomblin also concluded that the bill was unnecessary after lawmakers overrode his earlier veto of legislation (HB 4145) that allows people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

| Legislation (HB 4505) would have allowed Powerball, Mega Millions and Hot Lotto winners to claim prizes anonymously. Tomblin said the bill had a "fatal technical error. The legislation, which altered the state Freedom of Information Act, conflicted with changes to the public records act that Tomblin signed into law last month. The Lottery opposed the bill.

| A bill (SB 159) that would have halted most hemp-growing projects in West Virginia. The bundle of rules would have nullified most of the permits the Department of Agriculture has approved over the past year that allow individuals to grow industrial hemp for research projects.

Tomblin cited an amendment to the bill as the reason for his veto, saying the change was "fiscally irresponsible."

| A bill (SB 437) that would have updated amateur boxing and mixed martial arts rules in West Virginia. The legislation also would have changed the name of the state Athletic Commission to "Ring Sports Commission." The bill neglected to disclose that it was changing four sections of state law, Tomblin said.

Bills that got the governor's OK included:

| Voter ID legislation (HB 4013) that requires West Virginians to produce identification when they vote, beginning with the 2018 elections. Any government-issued ID card will be acceptable. Voters also can present other forms of identification, such as a bank debit card (but not a credit card), a utility bill, a bank statement or a health insurance card.

"The final amended version of the voter ID bill allows a wide range of identification options to be used at the polls by West Virginia voters, and it is highly unlikely voters will have difficulty complying with these steps," said Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman.

The bill also establishes procedures that will lead to automatic voter registration at the state Division of Motor Vehicles. Voters who go to the DMV will be told they will be registered to vote unless they decide to opt out. West Virginia will become only the third state with automatic voter registration.

"The governor believes [automatic voter registration] will encourage more people to participate in the democratic process," Stadelman said.

| A measure (HB 2852) that will legalize the sale of additional fireworks to consumers in West Virginia. Licensing fees assessed to businesses that sell the more powerful fireworks are expected to generate $1.2 million for a new veterans nursing home in Southern West Virginia and $500,000 for volunteer fire departments across the state.

Staff writer Elaina Sauber contributed to this report. 

(c)2016 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)