Information

Two bills would limit public access

West Virginia lawmakers are considering two bills that would limit your access to information — even information about you — and could make it easier for government officials to pull the wool over your eyes, or arrange for the unfair and speedy sale of your property.

One is House Bill 2441, which relates to the existing state Jobs Act. That law requires employers on state public improvement construction projects to use people from the local area as at least 75 percent of the projects’ workforces.

But HB 2441 would eliminate the requirement for employers to file certified payrolls. That would make it impossible for state officials to determine whether the 75 percent provision is being obeyed.

Then there is House Bill 2761, which “modernizes” the self-storage lien law. It has already been passed out of the House of Delegates. In a purported attempt to update a public notice law, the bill reduces the chance owners of items left in self-storage facilities will have their goods sold, unbeknown to them, to cover overdue rent on the storage units.

What we are talking about here is the mechanism by which operators of storage facilities can give those renting space — or perhaps the families of elderly or incapacitated renters — the opportunity to pay fees and rent due before the stored items are sold at auction.

Current law requires publication of legal notice in newspapers in an attempt to contact those who owe storage unit rent. The rule does not even require naming of the occupant, but only the number of a unit going up for auction due to lack of payment.

The change envisioned in HB 2761 would eliminate the requirement of even that public notice, but would simply require storage unit owners to try either the last email, telephone number or mailing address of the occupant or publish notices in newspapers. The potential for abuse is clear.

Should this change be enacted, a storage unit owner could choose to use the last known email address of an occupant and then arrange for a quick sale without giving the chance for someone to either pay up or at least come collect their property.

Again, it is difficult not to wonder what lawmakers have in mind by making it easier for the operators of storage units to sell someone else’s property quickly and with a minimum attempt to notify owners of the items.

It has been only a few short years since many still in Charleston swooped in on promises of transparency, fairness, and an end to the business-as-usual corruption that had become the norm in our state. It did not take them long at all to get used to the way things have always been done, which begs the question: What are they trying to hide (or accomplish) this time?

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