Hamilton says election laws need changed

Though it was a federal law that affected a political race in his home county, Bill Hamilton thinks it’s time for he and his fellow lawmakers to take a serious look at reforming some of West Virginia’s election laws.

Hamilton, R-Upshur, said he disagrees with Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s opposition to voter ID requirements, adding that with the state’s history of election hijinks, it’s time to require voters to show some sort of identification card before being allowed to cast a ballot.

“I have to show my ID a lot of places, cashing a check and even when I’m hunting and I check in a deer,” Hamilton said. “With our history of voter fraud – and it’s embarrassing to our state – we should be ashamed of ourselves if we don’t have voter ID.”

Hamilton said he wants to be a co-sponsor of a bill that would eliminate straight-ticket voting in West Virginia. Though he is in the majority party in his county and knows how that could affect his totals in the next election, he wants voters to be better educated on the candidates and the issues.

“People need to think when they go in there, instead of just making one X,” Hamilton said. “They have done away with it in a few states, and it has worked.”

Hamilton said he also plans to reintroduce a proposed state Constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

“The only way to do it would be to put that issue on the ballot for the next election,” he said.

“It would leave it up to the voters of West Virginia to decide if they approve of that issue.”

The biggest challenge facing lawmakers when the session begins in February may be dealing with the education audit.

A committee issued a 150-page report, along with a 50-page summary that offered changes to the way the state department works. Hamilton said some of those changes could save the state up to $90 million.

That savings may be much needed, as revenues from several severance taxes are expected to be significantly lower this year.

“It’s going to be one of the toughest years in my 11 years for balancing the budget,” Hamilton said. “Part of that is our own doing with the elimination of the food tax. That was $26 million. It not only affects the state, but also the county commissions and the school boards.”

Hamilton also would like to see emphasis placed on the completion of Corridor H in a timely fashion. He said the project has been dragging out for nearly 50 years.

He said he often is questioned about why he is pushing the project since the portion through his district already has been completed.

“People have to grasp the concept that we have to connect it to a four-lane road so we can get to those ports and ship our products,” he said. “I know people in the south want the Route 35 project, and they want a Morgantown-to-Wheeling road. But, let’s get one finished before we look at starting another one.”

Del. Peggy Donaldson Smith, D-Lewis, said she believes there will be fewer bills passed this session because of the issues facing the Legislature.

“I think this result in greater in-depth study of the bills,” she said.

Smith said she plans to introduce a bill which would restore the Promise Scholarship to its original intent of covering the tuition to state colleges for those students who qualify.

She said she has not considered changing the standards to qualify for the scholarship, adding that she knows there will be budgetary issues if the measure passes.

“I do not have a fiscal note on the bill yet,” Smith said. “We meet after the session ends to approve the budget. We will have to put money in for the Promise Scholarship.”

Smith also plans to introduce a bill that would enhance the criminal penalties for those who assault a pregnant women while having knowledge of the pregnancy. She said she is studying what those enhancements should be.

“I am checking into enhancements on other criminal statutes,” she said. “After I see that, I’ll decide how enhanced the penalties should be.”

Contact John Wickline by email at jwickline@theintermountain.com.