MOUTH OF THE ELK - "For The Sake Of Citizens"

(04/09/2005)

OPINION AND COMMENT by Bob Weaver

"For the sake of citizens" there will be no election reform from the West Virginia legislature.

An important piece of legislative reform that would have limited the amount an individual could contribute to special groups in political campaigns is dead.

The bill came up after Massey coal executive Don Blankenship spent millions of dollars last year to successfully defeat Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw and elect a judge the corporation thinks is more favorable to coal interests.

"We just didn’t have the time," said House Judiciary Chairman Jon Amores, D-Kanawha.

"Right now, the most troubling thing is individuals can contribute millions to political action committees," said Delegate Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, a Judiciary Committee member.

Blankenship went after Justice McGraw buying hundreds of TV ads, while there was more than one Massey court case pending in the Supreme Court.

The attack was launched by a group called "And For the Sake Of Kids," which claimed McGraw turned a sex offender back into society.

Blankenship is yet to established a promoised fund to help poor kids in West Virginia.

An insurance company bill almost passed that would limit the face value of a fire policy. The bill would have allowed insurance companies to pay the face value only if the insured actually replaced the dwelling after it burned down.

"I just wonder when we’re going to say no (to the insurance industry)" said Delegate Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, just prior to the bill being defeated. Some delegates broke into applause.

The bill could still pass.

Another bill would allow insurance companies to immediately increase their premiums to customers, but customers would have the right to call for a review of the increases. That bill allows insurance companies the right to drop 1% of their policyholders at will.

It would also allow insurance companies to drop anyone who had two or more claims in a 36 month period.

The legislature let stand the insurance companies right to deny issuing a premium based on bad credit, which catches about half of the states citizens.

The House passed a bill lowering severance taxes on the oil and gas and timber industries, after they were raised.

That bill came after the coal industry sued the state seeking re-payment of taxes on coal sent to foreign countries, claiming such tax is a violation of international law.

That case could require state government and counties to re-pay millions of dollars to the coal corporations.

"We think we’d see more reduction in revenue if we don’t take this action," said House Finance Chairman Harold Michael, D-Hardy.

The bill does affect county governments, which receive 10 percent of the gas and oil tax.


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