CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) is suing the West Virginia House of Delegates and the House Government Organization, claiming that during the 2021 legislative session, they allegedly knowingly violated the state’s Open Governmental Proceedings Act.
The act states that it is in the best interest of West Virginians for public agencies throughout West Virginia that exist to serve the purpose of representing citizens in governmental affairs to conduct their proceedings openly, “with only a few clearly defined exceptions.”
Public agencies covered in the act include any administrative or legislative unit or subunit of state, county or municipal government, according to the West Virginia Ethics Commission website.
State officials restricted public access to the State Capitol Building during the 2021 legislative session due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACLU-WV says this left an online audio feed as the only way for West Virginians to “remain informed of the Legislature’s actions.”
According to the lawsuit, members of the House Government Organization Committee conducted official business on March 23 allegedly knowing the live feed was malfunctioning. ACLU officials say four pieces of legislation advanced during that session and were later passed into law.
The ACLU-WV and Huntington attorney Hoyt Glazer filed the lawsuit today, June 9, 2021, on behalf of a Morgantown-based business owner who said he had an interest in one of the bills advanced during the March 23 meeting.
“As a business owner and resident in West Virginia, I follow the Legislature closely. I have a right to know what politicians are doing in Charleston, but the House of Delegates and the Government Organization Committee denied me my rights by denying me the ability to observe meetings that must be publicly open about matters that directly affect me.”
ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark says those four laws that advanced during the meeting need to be voided due to the alleged violation of the Open Governmental Proceedings Act, however, the organization is not taking any position regarding the substance of those four laws.
“Open meetings laws are at the very foundation of our democracy,” Stark said. “Without basic transparency and the opportunity of the public to observe government business, we cease to be a government for and by the people.”
The ACLU-WV is also claiming state lawmakers continued a House Technology and Infrastructure Committee the following day on March 24, allegedly knowing the public was unable to hear that discussion due to another audio feed malfunction. The ACLU-WV says the committee did reconvene and reconsider the bills passed during the March 24 session.