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ACLU sues West Virginia House over alleged open meetings law violations

ACLU sues West Virginia House over alleged open meetings law violations
© Greg Nash

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of West Virginia is suing the state’s House of Delegates and its Government Organizing Committee, alleging that it passed four bills in violation of an open meetings law.

The suit in a West Virginia state court alleges that the committee advanced several measures during a March 23 meeting even though the live audio for that meeting was malfunctioning. Those bills later became law.

The ACLU pointed out that access to the state Capitol was restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, forcing observers to rely on the live feed.

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The plaintiff in the case is Robert E. King, who owns a luxury limousine company. He alleges that he tuned in to the hearing to watch the committee consider a bill that would have exempted limousine companies from the regulatory authority of the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

Ultimately, the measure passed and is expected to take effect on July 6.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the four measures that were passed during that meeting to be voided and for an injunctive relief against their enforcement.

The suit further alleges that the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee met the next day to consider legislation despite the audio feed malfunctioning.

“Open meetings laws are at the very foundation of our democracy,” Loree Stark, the ACLU of West Virginia's legal director, said in a statement. “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 said a similar incident occurred the next day, when the audio feed of a March 24 meeting of the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee malfunctioned.

That committee later met again to reconsider the bills that it passed that day after the advocacy group threatened legal action.