CHARLESTON — With just four days remaining in West Virginia’s 2022 legislative session, the House of Delegates once again spent a considerable amount of time during its Wednesday floor session on third readings.

Committee Substitute for SB 470 was the first of the day to yield any significant debate. Introduced by Sen. Michael Maroney, R-Marshall, it relates to end-of-life health care decisions.

As explained by Del. Tom Fast, R-Fayette, the bill “updates the provisions of the West Virginia health care decisions act, and the ‘do not resuscitate’ act. The bill updates provisions regarding ‘persistent vegetative state’ by removing that term from the health care decisions act.”

After the bill was explained, Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, then asked “...does that mean that a person may not select for themselves to be removed from the medical machines that keep them alive if they're in a vegetative state?”

“No, it does not mean that at all,” Fast replied. “If a person wanted that language in their medical power of attorney or living will, they can still put it in there.”

“I think while the bill is well intended, I think we’re confusing the issue,” Rowe went on to say. “Most people do not want to be maintained in a vegetative state. You’re not helping people by having end of life care with that added to it.”

The bill was passed by the House by a margin of 90 votes for, and six against.

SB 694, introduced by Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, generated the most debate of the floor session. If enacted, the bill would mandate that certain West Virginia landowners submit to “forced pooling” agreements relating to their property.

As explained by Del. Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, the bill “Is to allow for the unitization of oil and gas interests for the purpose of horizontal well drilling.” Capito further explained that the bill would also call for the modification of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission by adding two additional members.

After Capito provided a lengthy summary of the bill, Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, was the first to rise in opposition, stating, “This bill has been brought up over and over again, in one form or another. The first time it came up it was called ‘forced pooling.’ And somebody figured out that that name didn’t go over well with freedom-loving citizens in West Virginia. After that it was ‘lease integration,’ and now it’s ‘unitization,’ or whatever.”

McGeehan then gave a near 20-minute explanation of his opposition to the bill, saying, “The core concept of the bill, regardless of which concept you’re looking at, is our ability to deny an individual who owns mill rights or royalty rights, to decline to sell. They’re trying to transfer that ability for the individual to have the ultimate say on whether he’s going to consent to sell. It’s taking away the rights of the individual land-holder to say I don’t like the price and I decline to sell.”

Del. Rolland Jennings, R-Preston, was next to voice opposition to the bill by asking Capito, “Can you give me the definition of stealing? This looks like that’s what we’re doing — making someone take an offer that they can’t refuse.”

Jennings went on to state “I submit to each and every one of you that if you vote for this bill, you’re stealing, and you become a thief. I want you to say that ‘yeah I voted for this bill so that if big companies want to drill under your property, they can just take it.’”

Jennings then summarized his point by stating “Does anybody in here want to give me their car keys? I’m only going to give you $200, and that’s all you’re going to get. We’re not going to negotiate. That’s what you’re doing to the people of West Virginia. (This is) stealing from the people that we represent.”

Del. Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, then rose in support of the bill, saying, “What happens when reality sets in and people start to see that there may be problems getting their resources harvested because they’re going to be trapped in a 40-acre plot that is surrounded by people who are tapping the resources? They’re done. There is no way, in the shale, that their property will ever be drilled. As much as they want to hang on and wait for the highest price, they will never be utilized.”

The floor debate continued for the next 60 minutes before a vote was called for by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. SB 694 was then passed the House by a margin of 55-votes for, and 44-votes against.

In addition, the House passed the following bills on third reading during Wednesday’s floor session:

SB 135: Relating to acquisition and disposition of property by urban development authority.

SB 440: Establishing Uniform Commercial Real Estate Receivership Act.

SB 508: Requiring deer hunters with muzzleloaders wear blaze orange on 400 square inches of their body.

SB 535: Providing for revocation of school personnel certification or licensure in certain circumstances.

SB 591: Relating to the process for filling vacancies in state Legislature.

SB 595: Relating to Dangerousness Assessment Advisory Board.

SB 616: Relating to confidentiality of court files and law-enforcement records of certain enumerated offenses.

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