CHARLESTON — A bill that some have called an act to protect unborn children became a centerpiece of controversy in a tie vote Tues., Feb. 11, in the state house of delegates.
While advocates for passage of House Bill 2364 urged lawmakers to vote to “discharge” the bill from the health and human resources committee, others argued that the issue is more about legislative leadership than the abortion question it seeks to regulate.
An effort to force the bill from the HHR committee failed on a 48-48 vote. Generally, pro-life legislators voted to discharge the bill from Delegate Don Perdue’s committee while pro-choice supporters voted against discharging it. Proponents have argued that Perdue has “bottled up” the bill in committee to keep it from passing the full house.
Still, many house members argued that their vote Tuesday either supported legislative leadership and the manner in which bills are routinely handled or opposed it. Members of leadership were said to have vocally called on Democrat legislators to vote against discharging the bill from the committee. In fact, some sponsors of the legislation actually voted not to discharge the bill, which would effectively have advanced it on to the judiciary committee. The bill had been “double-referenced” initially, indicating the house leadership did not support it. When a bill is sent to more than one committee of the legislature, it is generally labeled as “dead on arrival” for full passage in the house or senate.
Pro-life proponents of the legislation, which would generally protect unborn children who are capable of experiencing pain from being aborted, called on legislators to move the bill forward regardless of leadership’s posture. The timeline essentially established that a fetus of 20 weeks or more is capable of experiencing pain. The bill would also created felony criminal penalties for those who violate the proposed law and would establish a “West Virginia Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act Litigation Fund.”
Those who voted to discharge the bill from HHR would essentially have moved it on to the judiciary committee for consideration.
The bill was originally introduced by Democrat Delegates David G. Perry of Fayette County; Doug Reynolds of Wayne; Doug Skaff of Kanawha; Peggy Donaldson Smith of Lewis and John Pino of Fayette; and Republican Linda Sumner of Raleigh. All but Sumner voted in opposition to discharging the bill. Pro-life proponents labeled those who voted not to discharge the bill as voting in favor of pro-choice.
A Democrat who voted not to discharge the bill from the committee said he considered the vote more about “leadership than abortions.” The delegate said he is a pro-life proponent but voted not to discharge the bill. He said he believed, however, that the bill would “overwhelmingly” pass the full house and senate if it were to get out of committees. The legislator added that leadership will likely “have to figure out how to move a few bills they don’t want to move or there will be a revolt.”
Democrats hold a slim majority in the house, 53-47. Four legislators were absent for the vote: Democrats Anthony Barill of Monongalia County; Brady Paxton of Putnam; and Daniel Poling of Wood; and Republican Joshua Nelson of Boone.
Among local legislators, Delegate Jeff Eldridge of Lincoln County, a Democrat, and Republican Carol Miller of Cabell voted to discharge the bill from committee, effectively supporting the pro-life position. Democrats Josh Barker of Boone County; Justin Marcum of Mingo; Jim Morgan of Cabell; Kevin Craig of Cabell; Harry Keith White of Mingo; Rupie Phillips of Logan; and Ted Tomblin of Logan voted against the discharge motion.
Democrat Rick Moye of Raleigh County was the other Democrat who joined Eldridge in favoring discharge of the bill.
When a proposal ends in a tie vote, it is deemed to be rejected. Thus, the 48-48 tie rejected the efforts by pro-life representatives to move the bill forward.
A spokesman for West Virginians for Life was unavailable for comment Tuesday evening. Although Perdue has reportedly refused the bill to move out of his committee, supporters said late Tuesday they will continue their efforts to get the legislation passed this session.