The West Virginia Senate adopted a bill Thursday that sets up a potential rewriting of the state’s criminal code in 2022.
The Senate adopted House Bill 2017 by a margin of 34-0 with no debate.
During its evening session about five hours later, the House of Delegates sent the bill back to the House Judiciary Committee instead of concurring with or rejecting the Senate’s changes to the bill.
With two days left in the legislative session, there still is time for the House Judiciary Committee to meet and consider the bill. There was no House Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled as of Thursday evening.
If the committee doesn’t reconvene, or doesn’t advance the bill if it does reconvene, the bill will be dead for the 2021 session.
The bill originated as a more than 400-page revision of the state’s criminal laws, largely effecting the recommended sentences for all crimes defined in West Virginia law.
It is now a two-page bill that asks the West Virginia Sentencing Commission to review the House’s version of the bill as it works to review the state’s sentencing guidelines.
The legislature established the commission during the 2020 legislative session through HB 4004 to “to promote a fuller understanding of this state’s criminal justice sentencing system.”
As part of the HB 2017, the Legislature required members of the commission research sentencing issues and establish priorities with regard to the severity of crimes in state law, and report to the Legislature with its recommendations. The commission is due to report its findings to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2022.
When the House passed HB 2017 on March 31, the bill established a classification system for all criminal convictions in the state, with each class having its own sentencing range for judges and magistrates to use.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said earlier this week there wasn’t enough time for senators to properly review the bill.
Trump said he wanted to send the bill to the Sentencing Commission because House Government Organization Chairman Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, Delegate Nathan Brown, D-Mingo, and other former delegates had worked on the bill for the better part of the past year.
The bill would have increased the potential jail time for more than 200 felony crimes.
In the House, everyone who spoke about the bill said a rewrite of the state’s criminal laws was long overdue, but some delegates raised concerns the bill could lead to overcrowding of the state’s prisons and further overcrowding of the state’s jails.
House Bill 2017 will return to the House of Delegates for members there to decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes.
The legislative session is scheduled to end Saturday. Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday issued a proclamation extending the session into Sunday to allow the Legislature to consider the state’s budget for fiscal year 2021-2022, which begins July 1.