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In this weeks edition:


Was stoppig Senate Bill 412 the biggest public
service of the 2017 legislative session???


I am going to relinquish this space this week to my friend
Don Smith, Executive Director of the West Virginia Press
Association. I have read a lot about the recently passed legislative
sesson. Obviously, like many of you, I am still wondering what
happened. Don’s subject is an important one, so while we sort
through the tons of material from the session and wait on future
budget developments, I thought I would share it...
By Don Smith, West Virginia Press Association
Since the end of the regular 60-day session of the Legislature on
Saturday, West Virginians, understandably, have been focused on
the continuing budget discussions and the 262 bills approved during
the session.
However, as is often the case during a session, the legislators’
greatest service to the people of West Virginia can be stopping
legislation that would have negatively impacted the state and its
people.
Such might be the case with Senate Bill 412 - Relating to WV Jobs
Act reporting requirements - which died in the House of Delegates
after a passionate floor debate on amendments during the evening
session on Thursday, April 6.
(SB412: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Bill_Text_HTML/
2017_SESSIONS/RS/bills/SB412%20SUB1.pdf)
While the public is aware that Gov. Jim Justice is still seeking at
least a $4.4 billion budget and the Legislature is calling for a $4.102
billion budget, few West Virginians realize that in the final week of
the 2017 legislative session the public came very close to losing its
ability to monitor a large portion of government spending on
construction projects at the state, county and local level.
SB 412 - in its original and amended versions - would have declared
state, county and local spending on wages for construction projects
as confidential and proprietary and not a public record. Millions of
dollars in government spending would have been closed from public
scrutiny.
Delegates Mike Caputo, D-Marion; Scott Brewer, D-Jackson; Mike
Ferro, D-Marshall; and Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio; Justin Marcum,
D-Mingo; and Phillip W. Diserio, D-Brooke; all spoke against SB 412,
leading the call for government transparency and demanding public
access to wage information on such spending.
Fortunately, House of Delegates opposition to SB 412 was bipartisan
and the floor vote on an amendment by Delegate Gregg Foster,
R-Putnam, to further restrict public access to wage information,
failed 67-31 with two not voting. (http://www.legis.state.wv.us/
legisdocs/2017/RS/votes/house/00453.pdf)
Speaker of the House Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, Delegate
John Shott, R-Mercer and Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio; and
Delegate Vernon Criss, R-Wood; were among the Republicans who
voted against SB 412.
By restricting wage information, SB 412 would have made it
impossible to do any of the following:
— for workers on a job to check and see if their $12-an-hour wages
were reported as $20-an-hour by a company, to add labor expenses
when seeking a change order on a job and more labor expense
revenue;
— for anyone, including a legislator, to check reports to see if a
company billed a state, county or city construction project for a crew
that was actually working on another job during the time period;
— for anyone, including a legislator, to check reports to see if a
company billed a state, county or city construction project for work
when workers were actually off on a rainout;
— for spouses and children to check to see if workers with child
support obligations are reporting wages or dodging payments;
— for anyone, including Legislators, to check reports to see how
wages are being impacted by the changes in the right to work and
prevailing wage laws.
Addressing the prevailing wage issue, several delegates questioned
why the state - a year after eliminating prevailing wage - would
want to restrict the wage information that would make comparison
and analysis possible on the impact of the new prevailing wage
legislation.
The language proposed in the bill and the amendments were very
restrictive to the public: “Every public improvement contract or
subcontract let by a public authority shall contain provisions
conforming to the requirements of this article. … any such
document containing records of actual wages paid to employees
shall be deemed confidential and proprietary and shall not be
considered a public record; …. Any such document and any
information contained therein shall be deemed confidential and
proprietary and shall not be considered a public record for the
purposes” of Freedom of Information.”
Proponents of SB 412, introduced and sponsored by Sen. Craig Blair,
R-Berkeley County, said the worker wage information should be
kept private, noting that workers at other private companies with
state contracts did not have to report wages. Delegates Foster and
Riley Moore, R-Jefferson, were among those speaking in favor of the
bill in the House.
The West Virginia Press Association noted that if legislators voted
for SB 412, they voluntarily gave up their rights to that information
but forcibly took away the rights of other state, county, city and
school officials, and made it impossible for the public or the media
to watch for abuse and fraud.
Following the House’s decision to vote again the Foster amendment,
SB 412 was moved from the special calendar and died.
The West Virginia Press Association, as a matter of principle,
opposes any limitations to the public’s access to government
information. However, on SB 412, the opposition was more practical.
There have been far too many news on cases of fraud and abuse on
construction projects, kickbacks and hiring irregularities for this
wage information to be hidden. With road and infrastructure projects
planned for West Virginia, now is certainly not the time to consider
restricting information on such spending.
The West Virginia House of Delegates, especially under Speaker
Tim Armstead, has been a strong advocate of open government and
public access. The WVPA applauds Speaker Armstead, the House of
Delegate and the individual delegates who stood and spoke for the
public’s right to know: Delegates Caputo, Brewer, Ferro, Fluharty,
Marcum, Diserio and others.
We hope all legislators will look to state code and remember the
section on Freedom of Information: “… The people, in delegating
authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what
is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.
The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain
control over the instruments of government they have created. …”














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