House committee OKs bill to allow county voters to set up special election to recall county ordinances

·3 min read

Jan. 19—MORGANTOWN — The House Political Subdivisions Committee OK'd a bill on Wednesday to allow voters in a county to set up a special election to recall a county ordinance.

Even after amendments to clarify confusing points, bill supporters admitted it needs more work. No supporters explained, and no witnesses were called to speak to why the bill is needed.

HB 2901, as introduced, would allow "not less than 15 percent of the voters of the last general election " to sign and present a petition to recall a county ordinance or code provision.

Among the confusing points members addressed was the meaning of that 15 % figure. They asked if it meant 15 % of those who actually voted or just that number of people, whether they voted or not.

Jonathan Adler, director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, took questions on this and admitted every county could interpret it differently, leading to court challenges.

Also, if it meant those who actually voted, the county clerks would have the job of comparing each signature to the general election voting list. "Certainly this would be a task on top of everything else they have to do, " and be time-consuming.

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, said Mon County had about 42, 000 people vote in 2020, and 15 % of that is 6, 300. The clerk would have to look up 6, 300 names to verify they voted.

That particular issue led to two proposed amendments. One changed the "not less than 15 percent " to "equal to or greater than 15 percent." The other specified 15 % of those who actually voted.

Committee chairs and attorneys will typically review submitted amendments to see if any are contradictory and need to be considered together. But that wasn't done this time and members approved the first amendment before they heard the second one, which was rendered moot and withdrawn.

Upon questioning by Delegates John Doyle, D-Jefferson, and Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, the committee attorney said the petition process could be used to override any county ordinances addressing LGBTQ civil rights and bond ordinances. It could also allow for petitions to be submitted endlessly for the same ordinance, or for unlimited petitions calling for endless special elections.

Members approved an amendment specifying that any special election generated by this process would have to be held at the next primary or general election, to minimize county expense.

Hansen and Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia, both commented that an alternative to this process is county commissioner accountability: every two years one of them comes up for election and they can be voted out.

The bill passed in a 14-5 roll call vote and goes to Judiciary for further review.

The committee did not get to two other bills on the agenda. HB 2232 is similar, allowing 15 % of a city's voters to sign a petition to set up a recall election for a city ordinance. Hallway talk suggests this is aimed at overturning city nondiscrimination ordinances.

HB 2602 would require any special election to be held on the same day as a statewide primary or general election.

After the meeting, Hansen commented on HB 2091: "I have serious concerns about HB 2091. Voters can already vote county commissioners out of office if they disagree with their actions. It's the height of hypocrisy to add recall provisions for county decisions without doing the same for decisions made by the state Legislature."

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