- Associated Press - Friday, March 3, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - People could do their political campaigning a little closer to the polling place under a bill approved Friday in the West Virginia House. It’s one of one of several bills advanced by the House or Senate this week.

The measure, which applies to early voting as well as Election Day, would reduce the required distance for campaign activity to 100 feet from the entrance to a polling place. The restriction wouldn’t apply to private property. The current restriction is 300 feet.

Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott said the change reflects federal court rulings since West Virginia in 1986 imposed the wider limit. Inside that limit, candidates and advocates are prohibited from displaying signs, distributing literature, cards or handbills, or soliciting petitions on behalf of candidates or ballot questions.

Del. Stephen Baldwin, a Democrat from Greenbrier County, asked if the state has a choice whether to adopt the narrower limit or not.

“Probably not,” said Shott, a Bluefield Republican. “You have a choice, but we feel, the Judiciary Committee felt like this was the most cautious approach to take in view of the current state of the law.”

In the Senate on Friday, lawmakers advanced legislation to repeal mandatory wage bonds for newer mining and construction companies. Senators voted 20-12 against an amendment that instead would have shortened the required bond period from five years to three.

Sen. Glenn Jeffries, a Putnam County Democrat, proposed the amendment. He said state data show that new mining and construction companies are likeliest businesses to default on wages owed workers, usually within the first three years.

The protection has existed since the 1980s because of fly-by-night coal operators and builders coming into the state then skipping out on workers’ last four weeks of pay, said Sen. Douglas Facemire, a Harrison County Democrat. Over the past 10 years, state labor officials have collected about $130,000 a year from the bonds. They cost employers about $200 to protect $10,000 in wages, he said.

“Most working people do live paycheck to paycheck,” Facemire said, supporting the amendment. “You miss a paycheck you’re in debt.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump said the labor department is currently holding some 4,400 wage bonds from employers. It’s an anti-competitive requirement that puts the state out of step with nearby states except Kentucky, while bonds have been forfeited only about four times a year, he said.

Unpaid workers can still sue the employer under state law to get paid or make a claim against a company that goes into bankruptcy, Trump said.

Earlier this week, the House voted for stiffer prison sentences for trafficking in fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid blamed for many recent drug overdoses, and to establish an office of drug control policy to gather better data and apply for grants.

The House approved legislation that would let individual industrial plants discharge more chemicals into West Virginia waterways by measuring dilution by average flow in a waterway instead of low flow. It also agreed to prohibit nepotism in government hiring and working conditions and voted to close the West Virginia Women’s Commission in 2018.

Bills require approval by both the House and Senate to become law.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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