CHARLESTON, W. Va. — The House of Delegates rejected a proposal to allow members on active armed forces duty to vote on bills via electronic teleconference.
Nearly 45 minutes were spent debating the proposal.
Current rules require members to be present in the chamber and in their assigned seats.
Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason and a veteran, sponsored the resolution, HR 6, to allow this. “Wouldn’t it be fitting if we did this?” he asked.
Opponents cited U.S. Department of Defense 1344.10, which elaborates the rules for the policy that “members on active duty should not engage in partisan political activity.”
Referring to state office, the policy says retired regular armed forces members or reservists on active duty for more than 270 days may hold — but shall not exercise — the functions of a civil office.
But the retired member or reservist on duty “for 270 days or fewer may hold and exercise the functions of civil office provided there is no interference with the performance of military duties.”
Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, arguing in support of the measure, said the same qualities that make a person want to serve in the Legislature also make a person want to serve in the military. This action won’t interfere with a member’s military duties.
But Delegate Kevin Craig, D-Cabell and a veteran, opposed the measure. He said he served 30 months in South Korea, as an artilleryman, and commanded 34 soldiers. It’s necessary to keep those duties separate to avoid distraction and concentrate on the safety of the country and brothers in arms.
“It’s the right way to do things. You don’t blend these responsibilities. We owe it to our citizens and constituents to show up at the Capitol,” not participate via conference call. In choosing which duty to neglect, you neglect both to some degree.
Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston and a veteran, added, “If you’re not able to focus on your duty your partner next to you comes home in a body bag.”
Members didn’t vote on the resolution itself. They voted on a question from the rules Committee to reject the resolution. The rejection passed, 66-29, largely along party lines. All eight local Democrats voted to reject it, along with one local Republican. Two local Republicans voted against rejecting it.
The debate was so hot, members kept arguing after the vote was over. Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said the Senate allowed Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, to vote in the election of the new Senate president when Wells was overseas with the Navy.
But Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said he talked to Wells, who explained that this was a one-time event, and not on a bill but on a matter discussed in a closed-door party caucus.