Anti-Democracy Bills, Threats to Civil Liberties Advancing in the House

UPDATE 1/23/24: There were so many bad bills on the House Judiciary agenda Monday, they couldn’t get to them all! They did pass an amended version of HB 4205. (You can read more about that and other proposed election law changes here.) However, there’s still time to weigh in on HB 4016. We expect it and the other election bills mentioned below to be back on the agenda Wednesday, Jan. 24.

On Monday, the Committee also passed the E-Verify and DMV bills. More on the E-Verify bill here from Mountain State Spotlight. Finally, there will be a public hearing on HB 4654 will be held Wednesday, Jan. 24 at 8:30am in the House Chamber. Ahead of the public hearing — the first of the 2024 legislative session — WV Public Broadcasting spoke with the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Brandon Steele (R-Raleigh), and Delegate Joey Garcia (D-Marion), who opposes the bill. Our friends at Fairness West Virginia shared some information about HB 4654 here.    


We need to restore balance to our democracy, attract qualified people who want to go into public service, and make sure every vote is counted and everyone’s voice is heard. Instead, the WV House Judiciary Committee is considering a number of bills that only serve to sow mistrust and discourage participation in democracy. The most concerning of these are: 

  • HB 4205 – Relating to changing the process of election litigation   

As our friends at the ACLU of WV explains in their bill tracker, “This bill gives the legislature standing to challenge administrative or emergency changes to election rules. This gives overtly partisan, biased actors an opportunity to interfere in measures that may be appropriate for unforeseen circumstances.”

This would include the changes made through executive orders and emergency rules during the 2020 election in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The result: West Virginians used the expanded voting options made available to them to achieve the second highest turnout in the state’s history. Voters made clear decisions, and contests were decided honestly, without controversy, and with no hint that fraud affected the outcome of any race.

  • HB 4016 – Prohibiting the delivery of unsolicited absentee ballot applications to any person who has not specifically requested one from the county clerk

This offensive bill makes it a crime for any person or organization to distribute absentee ballot applications. Applications, NOT ballots. HB 4016 will have a chilling effect on those who work to encourage voting by prohibiting the distribution of a public document available for download from the Secretary of State’s website. 

Contact House Judiciary Committee members and your delegates and urge them to oppose these bills. The committee meets at 2:30 PM, Monday, Jan. 22. You can listen to the discussion here. 

We’re also monitoring two other election bills on the agenda: 

  • HB 4017 – To modify certain election laws, early voting laws, and absentee voting laws

HB 4017 makes technical changes to state law to distinguish between absentee voting and in-person early voting. The bill also establishes criminal penalties for coercing or offering payment for unlawful registration; and for casting a ballot in person after having voted an absentee ballot. We’re anxious to learn more about the bill’s intent and will be on look out for amendments that would discourage sharing information about voting, infringe on voting access or discourage voting.  

  • HB 4350 – Relating to appointment of candidates after filing period

This bill would prohibit the filling of a vacancy on the ballot after the close of the candidate filing period. Current law allows party executive committees or their chairs to fill such vacancies for a limited amount of time (about 2 weeks) after the close of the filing period. Vacancies on the ballot could still be filled for other reasons including the withdrawal by a candidate; as well as disqualification, incapacity, or death of a candidate. 

Other Bad Bills 

The committee also has several other bills on its agenda that raise serious privacy concerns, and infringe on civil rights and liberties. We are sharing information on these below from our partners and allies. 

  • HB  4759 – Relating to E-Verify, the federal employment authorization program

The E-Verify program seeks to prevent unauthorized workers from gaining employment by requiring that everyone in the United States seek permission from the government before taking a job. HB 4759 requires every business entity and employer in the state to verify the legal employment status of all persons who they hire and to report their employment to the appropriate governmental agencies. The bill also creates onerous requirements for employers and additional responsibilities for state agencies tasked with enforcement, in addition to the concerns outlined below. 

ACLU of WV Position: Oppose –  “Invasive, Inaccurate, Expensive.” Read more here about the problems with E-Verify. 

  • HB 4315 – Providing DMV with certain medical information related to mental or physical disabilities as it relates to the ability of a person to drive safely

ACLU of WV Position: Oppose – “This bill would require medical professionals to provide a list of all people with diagnoses that could impair driving to the DMV.  This is an unnecessary amount of medical information to share with a government office, and does not provide the individual case-by-case assessment of the capacity to drive that should be made by physicians familiar with the patient.”

  • HB 4654 – Removing bona fide schools, public libraries, and museums from the list of exemptions from criminal liability relating to distribution and display to minor of obscene matter

Morgantown-Kingwood NAACP Position: Oppose – “Threatens teachers, librarians and museum staff with criminal liability based on a subjective definition of “obscene matter.” Similar laws have been used to attack content about racism as well as LGBTQIA friendly materials. As intended, it will create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.” See their Action Alert here. The ask is simple – VOTE NO ON HB 4654. 

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