- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Facing a Wednesday deadline to keep their bills in play, West Virginia lawmakers cleared the way to change campaign-finance laws, scale back people’s natural-gas mineral rights, introduce Uber ridesharing, and outlaw open beer cans in cars.

On the GOP-led Legislature’s last day to pass bills in the chamber where they started, an oil and natural gas mineral rights discussion consumed much of the day in the House of Delegates.

The so-called forced-pooling bill would allow horizontal drilling under some properties when 80 percent of the surrounding mineral owners had worked out drilling agreements. It would apply when people owning mineral rights couldn’t be found or refused to sign leases. The property owners would be compensated.

In a favorable 60-40 vote, tea party members and some Democrats formed an unlikely alliance against the bill. They said it infringed on people’s property rights.

Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, forced the entire bill to be read for about an hour in protest.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” McGeehan said. “I don’t think you can love your neighbor and steal from him.”

Debate ensued for another two-and-a-half hours, with proponents saying the change would boost the economy.

In the Senate, a campaign finance-law face-lift that Democrats originally loathed ended in a friendly 28-6 vote.

Their compromise would allow $2,700 per donor per primary, and another $2,700 per donor for each general election. Currently, the limit is $1,000 per donor for each election.

The original bill would have set no limits on donations for candidates and committees from individuals and corporations.

Democrats only jumped on board after Republicans removed corporations from the equation, lowered how much they would increase limits, and added more disclosure. The final version even included a provision requiring groups that currently hide their donors to disclose them, should they buy independent ads.

Republicans were still happy with the increased coordination between political party committees and candidates.

Lawmakers also checked off smaller initiatives. They include:


A measure passed by the House would prohibit disclosing the identities of residents who have permits to carry a concealed handgun.



The Senate gave its blessing to set up a system allowing Uber and other similar ridesharing groups to operate in West Virginia.



A House measure would make it clear that it’s illegal for car passengers to carry open containers of beer and liquor. Currently, it’s technically illegal to drink as a passenger, but it’s OK to have open containers. The change would free up $9.4 million in transportation funds that the federal government has withheld from West Virginia due to the lack of an open-container law.

With a March 14 end of session looming, most bills that passed Wednesday still need work in the opposite chamber.

Among the high-profile bills that did not survive Wednesday are measures that would create a right-to-work state, require drug tests for welfare recipients and allow medical marijuana use.



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