Do the Right Thing

West Virginians want to do whatever can be done to prevent another disaster like the chemical leak into the Elk River on Jan. 9 when tap water was rendered unusable for 300,000 people. That may include new regulations enacted by the Legislature. But while it is understandable the heat of the moment produced a desire to bang out something as quickly as possible, the truth is such a bill is complex and important, meaning it will take time to get right.

House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and House Judiciary Chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion, both say a special session is unnecessary to pass an ever-mutating bill. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s original bill was re-written by the Senate, where it then passed, was sent to the House and assigned to the Health Committee. It was re-written again. Then it went to the House Judiciary Committee, where another long list of amendments was recommended. Next up after the Judiciary is the House Finance Committee.

All those overhauls mean lawmakers have a lot of work left to do – even in simply understanding what has already been written. For example, Del. John Ellem, R-Wood, was concerned about the use of the word “variable” in the bill’s definition of a process vessel as a tank with “a steady, variable, recurring or intermittent flow of material.” He wondered if using “variable” might create a loophole. That is just one word out of the countless number that should receive similar scrutiny if lawmakers are serious about doing the right thing for West Virginians.

Even Manchin said of the bill, “I don’t think it’s a masterpiece. I think we’re getting very close to what a final document should look like.”

“Very close” is not good enough. Legislators pushing for more time – during a special session – deserve the chance to ensure the bill is thorough, tough, fair and without loopholes. If that cannot be accomplished by the end of the regular session, the bill should be added to a special session agenda. In any case, lawmakers must not return from Charleston until they have taken the action their constituents demand.