Tag Archives: West Virginia

West Virginia Launching Blockchain-Powered Mobile Voting System

West Virginia is test launching a mobile voting system powered by blockchain technology in its upcoming primary election on May 8th. The system will initially be available only for active-duty military registered voters and their “eligible dependents” in Harrison and Monongalia county.

The state is the first in the country to be testing a blockchain-backed voting system for a federal election, according to a recently released statement.

In the statement issued Thursday, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner said:

Registered and qualified military voters that are currently deployed from participating counties are now able to vote on the secure mobile application and will continue being able to vote until polls are closed at 7:30 p.m. EST on Primary Election Day on May 8th. All that is needed for qualified, registered military personnel to cast their ballot is a compatible Apple or Android mobile device and an approved, validated State or Federal ID.

The goal of the project is to offer a more secure military mobile voting system that is verifiable, transparent, and more secure and accessible than the current system. A report from The Hill noted that while the new system is currently designated just for military voters, their spouses and children in Harrison and Monongalia counties, “the state plans to expand the program to all 55 counties in the upcoming November general election if the pilot proves successful.”

According to the voting project’s white paper, support for the project is coming from the Office of the Secretary of State of West Virginia, Voatz, Tusk/Montgomery Philanthropies, New America and the Blockchain Trust Accelerator. Voatz has recently been in the news for raising $2.2 million to prevent tampering in elections.

[RELATED: WATCH: Rep Backed By Securities Industry Says Cryptocurrency Undermines Gov’t. Control]

The Secretary’s office described the current system, noting that “the current absentee process for West Virginia military voters who are currently deployed can be cumbersome to complete. Finding solutions to ensure military personnel are able to vote has been one of the Warner’s priorities since taking office 14 months ago.”

The white paper listed benefits of a blockchain-based mobile voting system including being fast, auditable, and maintaining transparency as well as anonymity.

The paper further discussed issues with overseas ballot systems, stating that “absentee ballot systems previously offered to overseas military voters did not ensure anonymity, and many military voters were concerned their mail-in or faxed ballots may not be received in time, or may not be counted. The new mobile voting system resolves these concerns.”

Scott Warner, son of Secretary Warner, was the first active user of the mobile voting system. Since he is currently deployed in Italy he was able to test and provide feedback, saying:

The registration for this application was very easy to maneuver. It included an ID verification process that matched me to my ID. That gave me confidence that this mobile voting process was secure…when the ballot was made available, I just clicked through the names of the candidates. I hit ‘vote’ for the candidates I wanted to support. Then I used the thumb print Touch ID on my phone to verify who I was. That was it. Pretty slick!

The Secretary of State’s Office plans to expand this pilot program in the 2018 General Election in November to all 55 counties in the state. Once the system is successfully implemented.

In addition to the state testing a blockchain-powered voting system, the West Virginia House of Representatives recently made a move to establish a subcommittee to study the potential implementation of blockchain technology for state record keeping.

Woman Pulled From Public Hearing While Listing Corporate Donations to Reps

A West Virginia resident and House of Delegates candidate was physically removed from a public hearing at the West Virginia House of Delegates shortly after she began reading a list of donations made to delegates by the energy industry, during discussion of a bill aimed at easing restrictions on gas and oil-related drilling on private land.

Lissa Lucas, Democratic candidate for District 7 of the West Virginia House of Delegates., appeared at the state capitol to testify regarding House Bill 4268, “which would allow a majority of 75 percent of owners or heirs of a single piece of property to determine whether the property could be developed for oil or gas production” according to WVNews. Lucas claimed that those speaking in favor of the bill and some voting on the bill were being paid by “the industry.”

“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,” Lucas said.

She went on to list oil and gas donations that have been made to members of the House Judiciary Committee— which included Committee chairman John Shott, who quickly opposed Lucas’ listing of names.

“John Shott. First Energy $2,000. Appalachian Power $2,000. Steptoe & Johnson—that’s a gas and oil law firm—$2,000. Consol Energy $1,000. EQT $1,000. And I could go on,” Lucas said.

Shott then said, “Miss Lucas, we ask that no personal comments be made?”

“This is not a personal comment,” Lucas responded.

“It is a personal comment and I am going to call you out of order if you are talking about individuals on the committee,” Shott told Lucas. “If you would, just address the bill. If not, I would ask you to just step down.”

She went on to name Delegate Jason Harshbarger, who is employed by Dominion Energy Transmission, and claimed that 40 percent of his contributions “comes from the oil and natural gas industry” as the microphone she was using was cut off. As she continued to press to continue speaking, she could be seen on video being physically led out by two men.

After the incident, Lucas, who describes herself as someone who is “disgusted with money in politics,” wrote on her website:

“As I tried to give my remarks at the public hearing this morning on HB4268 in defense of our constitutional property rights, I got dragged out of House chambers.

Why? Because I was listing out who has been donating to Delegates on the Judiciary Committee.

This is, of course, public information.

Allow me to point out that if Delegates genuinely think that my talking about who their campaign donors are—and how much they’re receiving from corporate lobbyists/corporate PACs—is an ad hominem attack… then they should be refusing those donations.

Yeah, refuse any donation that, if someone mentions it, makes you feel personally attacked.

Because that’s not an attack. That’s guilt. And you SHOULD be feeling that. Let that guilt about who you’re really working for inform your votes; don’t let the corporate money do it.”

An amended version of HB4268 went on to be approved by the committee and is set to move on to the House and state Senate for a vote; an amendment that was included was one “that would allow non-consenting owners to go to the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to make sure they’re getting the same deal as consenting owners.”

Opioid “Pill Dumping” Investigated in West Virginia

Williamson, WV — An ongoing investigation by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee has revealed pharmaceutical companies flooding small towns in West Virginia with opioid pain pills between 2006 and 2016.

In fact, a pair of letters released by the committee on Tuesday revealed that between those years, drug companies shipped 20.8 million oxycodone and hydrocodone pills to two pharmacies only blocks apart in the rural town of Williamson, West Virginia, which has a population of about 3,000 according to the 2010 U.S. census.

That figure breaks down to more than 6,500 pills per resident.

“These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia,” ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a joint statement to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

The U.S. is currently in the midst of an epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths, which the Center for Disease Control estimates at 115 opioid related deaths daily, with West Virginia having the highest overdose death rate in the nation.

The letters released by the committee specifically addressed the distribution practices of two regional drug distributors, Ohio-based Miami-Luken and Illinois-based HD Smith, as part of an ongoing probe into “pill dumping.”

So how did the practice of mass prescribing addictive opioids begin?

One need only look to Purdue Pharma, and the Sackler family, to better understand the acceptance of these powerful painkillers for everyday medical issues.

As I previously reported for The Free Thought Project, the Sackler family, which owns 100 percent of Purdue Pharma, has amassed the 16th largest family fortune in the U.S. — estimated to be worth $14 billion dollars by Forbes in 2015 — by distributing the highly addictive, and often deadly, opiate painkiller OxyContin as a purportedly non-addictive version of oxycodone, labeling it as “abuse resistant.”

Purdue Pharma has generated estimated sales of over $35 billion dollars since releasing OxyContin in 1996. In that first year, the drug accounted for about $48 million in sales, and by 2000 that number had skyrocketed to $1.1 billion, an increase of over 2,000 percent in just four years.

By 2010, OxyContin would account for annual profits of $3.1 billion. Simply put, this family controlled almost one-third of the U.S. prescription pain business in America.

In a seemingly methodical manner, Purdue Pharma, under the guidance of brothers Arthur, Raymond, and Mortimer Sackler, began a campaign to promote their new drug, as described in The American Journal of Public Health, “The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy.”

One of the primary missions of Purdue Pharma was to identify the doctors across America prescribing the most pain medication and strategically marketed the drug directly to them as a “safe” alternative to other pain medications.

A report in The Week explains how the prevalence of opioids leading to the nationwide epidemic came to fruition:

“During its rise in popularity, there was a suspicious undercurrent to the drug’s spectrum of approved uses and Purdue Pharma’s relationship to the physicians that were suddenly privileging OxyContin over other meds to combat everything from back pain to arthritis to post-operative discomfort. It would take years to discover that there was much more to the story than the benign introduction of a new, highly effective painkiller…

“Perhaps knowing that doctors would be vigilant against prescribing drugs with the potential for abuse, Purdue set out to distinguish OxyContin from rivals as soon as it dropped. The cornerstone of its marketing campaign was the drug’s incredibly low risk of addiction, an enviable characteristic made possible by its patented time-release formula. Through an array of promotional materials, including literature, brochures, videotapes, and Web content, Purdue proudly asserted that the potential for addiction was very small, at one point stating it to be “less than 1 percent.”

The actions of Purdue Pharma, and their aggressive marketing to doctors with a proclivity to already administer pain pills loosely, are often cited as a primary driver of the deadly opioid epidemic now gripping the country. Prior to this time, doctors were reluctant to prescribe strong opioids, except for end-of-life palliative care and acute cancer pain, due the extremely addictive nature of these drugs.

Last year, there were 13 fatal drug overdoses in West Virginia’s Mingo County, of which Williamson is the county seat, and 711 deaths from drugs in the 54 other counties that make up the state, according to the West Virginia Health Statistics Center, as reported by NBC.

NBC went on to report that committee questioned the drug companies regarding whether they believed that such a large amounts of pills, going to such small towns, was appropriate or raised any “red flags”:

“In the letter to Miami-Luken, they asked whether the company made any attempt “to understand why the number of pills that it sent to Tug Valley Pharmacy increased by over 350 percent over a single year period from 2008 to 2009.”

In the letter to H.D. Smith president J. Christopher Smith, the lawmakers asked why the company supplied the two Williamson pharmacies with ‘39,000 hydrocodone pills over a two-day period in October 2007.’

‘If so, were any red flags raised about potentially suspicious orders, and were any suspicious order reports submitted to the DEA?’ they wrote.

Both companies were given until Feb. 9 to answer their questions.”

The Gazette report noted that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was a one-time lobbyist for a trade group that represented drug companies, including Miami-Luken.

Interestingly, several lawsuits against the company, filed by the West Virginia’s previous AG, Darrell McGraw, which charged that the drug companies had flooded the state with opioid pain pills, were settled by Morrisey in 2016.

Following Veto Override, Constitutional Carry to Become Law in West Virginia in 90 Days

West Virginia’s legislature enacted a constitutional carry bill on Saturday through a 23-11 Senate vote to override Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto of the bill.

According to WSAZ-TV, the bill is now set to become law in 90 days. HB 4145 legalizes the concealed carry of firearms by anyone 21 years of age or older who has not had his or her gun rights stripped via a court order. It also sets aside a process for individuals between ages 18-21 to obtain a concealed carry permit.

The W.Va. House also voted 64-33 on Friday to override Governor Tomblin’s veto.

The bill contains an additional provision which allows residents in the state to apply for a $50 tax credit for firearms training classes which Governor Tomblin criticized as “ill-advised and unclear.

[RELATED: West Virginia Legislature Overwhelmingly Approves Constitutional Carry]

West Virginia’s law enforcement officers have dedicated their lives to keeping us safe and helping us in times of need, and it’s disheartening that the members of the Legislature have chosen not to stand with these brave men and women — putting their safety and the safety of West Virginians at risk. It’s unfortunate that the concerns of officers from every law enforcement branch in the state, including the West Virginia State Police and university campus police officers, have been ignored by today’s action,” read a statement by Governor Tomblin according to Breitbart.

W.Va. Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wrote in a Saturday post on Facebook, “This is a good day for West Virginians and gun owners across the state. I applaud the Legislature for its quick work to override this week’s veto and expand gun rights by enacting constitutional carry.

[RELATED: Maine Governor Signs Constitutional Carry Bill Legalizing Concealed Carry Without Permit]

As the state’s chief legal officer and counsel in charge of criminal matters before the state Supreme Court and federal courts, I know that this legislation will not compromise public safety. This bill not only expands freedom, but will keep our citizens protected,” added Morrisey.

Follow Barry Donegan on Facebook and Twitter.

18-year-old Saira Blair Becomes America’s Youngest Lawmaker

On Tuesday, 18-year-old Republican Saira Blair became the youngest lawmaker in the United States, when she was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Blair, who is currently a freshman, majoring in Economics at West Virginia University, defeated her democratic opponent, Layne Diehl, by receiving 63 percent of the vote in West Virginia’s 59th delegate district.

POLITICO reported that Blair “launched her campaign earlier this year and unseated a two-term incumbent in a May primary ­– the first time she could vote herself.”

I’d been involved with politics since I was about 6 years old, when my father first ran for the West Virginia House of Delegates,” said Blair, who explained that she had spent the last 10 years watching and shadowing her father, Craig Blair, as he made his way to becoming a state Senator.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Blair contributed nearly $4,000 to her own campaign. “Candidates should have some skin in the game,” said Blair. “I wanted voters to know I was serious.

After becoming involved with student government, Blair became passionate about individuals her age taking part in politics, and making a difference.

When I saw how capable the students were of creating such progressive legislation and really getting work done, it really made me realize that we really didn’t need to wait,” Blair said.

Newsweek reported that Blair’s main goals include creating jobs, repealing the Unfair Trade Practice Act that keeps West Virginia’s gas prices from competing with bordering states, and making West Virginia a right-to-work state, which allows employees to “make their own decision about whether to join or support a union.

According to POLITICO, Blair “pushed back against criticism that young people are apathetic and Democratic claims that the GOP has a war on women.”

The most negativity that I get for my age and for my gender is from the Democratic Party, not from my own,” Blair said.

Blair announced that after the fall semester, she will not be returning to school in the spring, but will instead work as a delegate for a semester, before returning to school in the summer and fall.

For far too long, West Virginians have been burdened by high unemployment, a sluggish economy, and a government unwilling to listen to the needs of its citizens,” said Blair, in a statement on her Facebook page.

Today, the voters of the 59th District in the great state of West Virginia sent a clear message that the path to prosperity and success is rooted in conservative values and principles,” said Blair. “When I made the decision to run for public office, I did so because I firmly believe that my generation’s voice, fresh perspective and innovative ideas can help solve some of our state’s most challenging issues.”

Supreme Court refuses to act on same-sex marriage issue

While more people are showing support for same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court made the decision Monday to not get involved with any appeals court decisions over same-sex marriage and allow these courts to decide how their states should move forward.

As a result of their refusal to get involved, five additional states have been added to the list of 19 others who allow same-sex marriage.  These five new states are Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to Reuters.  The appeals courts who rule over these states have already ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the past.

Six other states, who fall under the jurisdiction of those appeals courts, may also be affected by this decision and they may see same-sex marriage soon.  These six are Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

“The court’s letting stand these victories means that gay couples will soon share in the freedom to marry in 30 states,” said president of the Freedom to Marry organization, Evan Wolfson, according to USA Today.  “But we are one country, with one Constitution, and the court’s delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places.”

Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, according to the BBC, “Today is a joyous day for thousands of couples across America who will immediately feel the impact of today’s Supreme Court action.”

This is not the first time the Supreme Court has made a decision which has suggested support for same-sex marriage.  Last year, the Supreme Court invalidated parts of a law which denied legally married same-sex partners spousal benefits.

All of the small victories for those in support of same-sex marriage make many believe the Supreme Court will soon make a decision which will tackle the issue nationwide.

Breaking Update: West Virginia Legislators Vote To Nullify Federal Hemp Ban

state hCHARLESTON, W.Va., February 24, 2014– As first reported by BenSwann.com last month, West Virginia legislators introduced legislation to nullify the federal ban on hemp. Earlier this afternoon the West Virginia State House voted to approve the bill which authorized the production, distribution and sale of industrial hemp within the state. The final vote was 88-8.

The legislation was introduced by Del. Mike Mannypenny (D – Taylor, 49), along with four co-sponsors. HB3011 modifies current state law on industrial hemp “removing the provision that requires an applicant to meet federal requirements concerning the production, distribution and sale of industrial hemp prior to being licensed.”

With the addition of a clause that disregards the requirement for federal permission, the state is asserting its authority to provide authorization for industrial hemp whether the federal government decides to approve or not.

Experts count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.

This month, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The new “hemp amendment”

…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.

Three states – Colorado, Oregon and Vermont – have already passed similar measures. Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, effectively nullifying federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. A hemp nullification bill passed the Washington State House last week.  In the same week, Tennessee’s hemp nullification bill moved through sub-committee with unanimous approval.

Industrial hemp is used for a wide variety of purposes including the manufacture of cordage of varying tensile strength, durable clothing and nutritional products. During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!

Even though soil, climate and agricultural capabilities could make the United States a massive producer of industrial hemp, today no hemp is grown for public sale, use and consumption within the United States. China is the world’s greatest producer and the United States is the #1 importer of hemp and hemp products in the world.

HB3011 now moves on to the full West Virginia state senate where it will first be assigned to a committee for consideration before the full senate has an opportunity to send the bill to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for a signature.

Follow Michael Lotfi on Facebook and on Twitter.

New West Virginia legislation would nullify federal gun laws

state h

CHARLESTON, W.V., January 21, 2014 –  West Virginia legislator Cindy Frich (R), and five cosponsors have introduced a bill, which would impede the implementation of federal gun control measures, within the state.

House Bill 2832 (HB2832), the “Firearm Protection Act”, explicitly prohibits all state public servants from enforcing any “act, law, statute, rule or regulation of the United States Government relating to a personal firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition” provided that the item in question remains “exclusively within the borders of West Virginia.”

From the text of HB2832:

“The purpose of this bill is to create the “Firearm Protection Act” that provides that any federal law effective after March 1, 2013 which attempts to ban semiautomatic firearm or to limit the size of a magazine of a firearm or other limitation on firearms in this state is unenforceable in West Virginia.”

The bill’s legal standing is based upon anti-commandeering doctrine and stands with 170 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence.

The Supreme Court has upheld this doctrine repeatedly from 1842 to 2012. “There is absolutely no serious discussion opposing anti-commandeering,” said Mike Maharrey, national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center.  “On top of it,” he continued, “This is just what James Madison advised the people and states to do if they wanted to thwart federal acts.”

Writing in Federalist #46, Madison advised a series of actions which he said would be an effective way to stop both unconstitutional and constitutional federal acts. He referred to them as either “warrantable” or “unpopular.”

These actions included using state “legislative devices” and a “refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union.”

“The federal government simply does not have the manpower or resources to enforce the countless laws they have on the books,” said Maharrey. “All one needs for proof is the miserable failure that the Obama administration has experienced while trying harder than any president in history to stop states rights on marijuana. After a while, they had to throw in the towel.”

In order to move further, HB2832 currently sits in the House Judiciary Committee where it must be passed by a majority vote before going to the House floor for further consideration. A state Senate companion bill must also be voted on before the bill becomes state law.

One may follow the Tenth Amendment Center to track the progress of HB2832.

Follow Michael Lotfi on Facebook & on Twitter: @MichaelLotfi


West Virginia moves to nullify federal hemp ban

state hIf passed, HB3011 would effectively nullify the federal ban on hemp cultivation. The West Virginia House joins many other states who are seeking to nullify the federal ban this legislative season.

H.B. 3011 has strong bipartisan support. The bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Manypenny (D), with Reps. Walker (D), Swartzmiller (D), Canterbury (R) and Ambler (R) signed on as co-sponsors.

The bill would allow for farmers to apply for state permits that allow cultivation of industrial hemp.

The preamble of the bill is stated as to allow the state to “remove the provision that requires an applicant to meet federal requirements concerning the production, distribution and sale of industrial hemp prior to being licensed to grow hemp for industrial purposes in the state.”

Follow Michael Lotfi on Facebook & on Twitter: @MichaelLotfi