We recently saw a national outcry over a teacher dragged from a school board meeting for raising concerns over school policies. Now, the West Virginia House of Delegates is under scrutiny for the treatment of a woman, Lissa Lucas, who appeared at a hearing over a drilling bill and attempted to list the contributions accepted by both Democrats and Republicans from the gas and oil industries. She also raised an event the night before where the members wined and dined with industry lobbyists. She was forciably removed from the hearing after Chairman, John Shott (R-Mercer) ruled her comments as non-germane and personal. Many voters would likely disagree and say that the extent of corporate-related money is not relevant to the legislation.
Lucas is going to challenge one of the members and traveled the 100 miles from her home in Cairo, West Virginia to testify against an oil and gas industry sponsored bill (HB 4268). The bill is being pushed by oil and gas companies and would allow companies to drill on minority mineral owners’ land without their consent.
She walked up to the podium and noted that “the people who are going to be speaking in favor of this bill are all going to be paid by the industry. And the people who are going to be voting on this bill are often also paid by the industry,” Lucas said.
She added a reference tothe Whiskey, Wine and Policy Winter Legislative Reception at the Charleston Marriott Hotel on February 7 sponsored by the Shale Energy Alliance: “I have to keep this short, because the public only gets a minute and 45 seconds while lobbyists can throw a gala at the Marriott with whiskey and wine and talk for hours to the delegates.”
That was it. When she started to list the campaign money going to the members, Chairman John Shott (R-Mercer) cut her off: “Miss Lucas, we ask that no personal comments be made.”
Lucas insisted that “This is not a personal comment,” but Shott said “It is a personal comment and I am going to call you out of order if you are talking about individuals on the committee. If you would, just address the bill. If not, I would ask you to just step down.”
Lucas continued with a reference to her opponent Delegate Jason Harshbarger (R-7): “About 40 percent of his money (campaign contributions) comes from the oil and natural gas industry,” Lucas said.
She was then dragged off.
There is a point in barring personal attacks, particularly from people who are political opponents. However, corporate influence on a bill would seem germane to the evaluation of the need and purpose of the legislation. This bill after all would overrule West Virginians on drilling operations.
Lucas could sue for the denial of her free speech rights. Courts tend to be reluctant to micromanage such hearings and could well side with the legislators but a credible challenge could be made.
This could make for an interesting challenge, though the legislative committee has the edge going in. The members could end up winning the judge and losing the voters in the court of public opinion.
What do you think?