WV House committee kills burglar's tools bill - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV House of Delegates committee kills a bill that would have banned burglar's tools

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People in possession of hammers, crowbars or anything else that could be used to commit burglary can breathe a sigh of relief.

That's because the House Judiciary Committee on April 8 voted against reporting Senate Bill 117 to the floor of the House of Delegates for a vote.

The bill, introduced in February, would make it a misdemeanor to possess "burglar's tools" if the person in possession of such tools intended to use them to commit burglary. The bill is being championed by Huntington city officials, who told members of the committee that passage of the bill would equip law enforcement with yet another way to combat the city's drug problem.

"What we have been battling in Huntington as well as a lot of other cities, is an influx of crime from other cities," Huntington Mayor Steve Williams told the committee. "One constant, constant complaint, and I've only been mayor since Jan. 1, but one call I get is to make our city safer."

Williams and Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook lobbied lawmakers representing the Huntington area to draft the bill. Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, introduced the bill Feb. 13, the first day of the 2013 regular session. It unanimously passed the Senate April 3.

Williams said 35 other states have adopted similar legislation, including Ohio and Kentucky. Holbrook once worked in North Carolina, another state with this type of legislation, and said the chief sees a need for the law in West Virginia.

"Our police chief is an awfully popular individual in our area," Williams said. "He wouldn't be asking for it if he didn't feel it was necessary."

Many theoretical situations were tossed about as delegates discussed the ins and outs of the bill. Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, described how she often had to use a screwdriver to start the windshield wipers of her 1986 Chevy Blazer while in college. Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, said many of his constituents are farmers and keep a variety of tools in their pickup trucks.

But Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, said he was concerned about constitutional issues that could arise.

"After looking at this, issues, … vagueness, overbroad, all those constitutional issues have been addressed in other jurisdictions," the committee's counsel said, noting he, too, was initially concerned with the constitutionality of the legislation.

But Williams said Huntington police would use the law as a pre-emptive measure. Currently, if they see someone with a backpack full of tools walking down an alley in the middle of the night, there is no action they can take, unless that person commits a crime. Williams said passage of the bill would allow the police to take proactive measures to ensure a crime does not take place. He emphasized that his police officers would not stop and search individuals or their vehicles without probable cause.

"If my police officers are doing that, they'll have disciplinary hearings," Williams said. "What we're asking for is the ability to be given a reason to ask. We will not tolerate police officers stopping anybody for any reason whatsoever."

Marcum continued to voice his concerns, saying that although he is a prosecutor and the law could help put criminals away, he was still wrestling with the constitutionality of the legislation.

"Under our law, I think we could have some potential problems, constitutionally and via enforcement," he said. "The clause about no reasonable doubt in my opinion would have no effect. We can't change the burden of proof in a criminal case. I think this is very over broad and could lead to potential abuse."

The committee voted to not pass the bill to the full House, effectively killing the bill.