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Bill that would keep felons from office in W.Va. dies in committee

March 13, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A bill that could have forced a Berkeley County Council member to abandon her bid for re-election this year because of a felony conviction was among hundreds of measures that died when the second session of the 80th Legislature came to a close Saturday night.

Senate Bill 518, which passed the state Senate Feb. 20 by a 29-2 vote, died in the House Judiciary Committee, according to the Legislature’s website.

Any person convicted of treason, bribery, perjury or any felony that is punishable by incarceration for more than a year would have been disqualified from being elected to any public office in the state, according to the proposed legislation.

County Councilwoman Elaine C. Mauck, who was elected to a two-year term in 2010, was convicted in federal court of one felony count of failure to properly dispose of asbestos in 2002, according to court documents.  

West Virginia had a 1931 law on the books banning felons from holding public office. But the state Supreme Court gutted it two years later, saying the language was unclear, according to published reports.

“I think cooler heads prevailed (in the House of Delegates),” Mauck said.

Two House proposals tackling the convicted felon prohibition also died in the House Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, did not return messages left at his office Monday.

The legislation was spurred by the candidacy of a former county assessor in southern West Virginia who pleaded guilty to federal vote-buying charges in 2005, but had filed to run for sheriff this year.

The candidate later abandoned his bid for elected office, but Senate Bill 518 still moved forward.

Mauck agreed that people convicted of vote-buying and embezzlement should not be allowed to run for office, but believes lawmakers realized the bill would still affect a greater number of people who could be productive and make contributions to their community through elected office.

“I’d be willing to look at (the loophole in the state code) with them,” Mauck said.

Additional legislation that passed last week requires nonprofit equine rescue facilities to obtain licenses from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

Senate Bill 75, which passed Saturday, also provides for inspections of such facilities twice annually and proposes “standards of care for equine rescue facilities’ animals and properties” by the state agriculture commissioner, according to the legislation’s sponsor, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson.

The legislation was prompted at least in part by the seizure of more than 50 horses two years ago from Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue in Berkeley County, Unger said previously.

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