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Debates break out in West Virginia House, Senate over cybersecurity, car dealerships, legislative auditor | News, Sports, Jobs | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware | #hacking | #aihp

A computer, using a text-to-speech program, reads part of a bill using a computer-generated voice after a lawmaker demanded a bill be read in full Thursday. (Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photograph)

CHARLESTON — With one day left until the 2024 legislative session ends at midnight Saturday, lawmakers in the West Virginia Legislature spent Thursday in long floor sessions trying to get bills to the finish line.
One of the longest floor debates in the House of Delegates Thursday became historic for the first-time use of artificial intelligence
The House passed Senate Bill 173 — modifying certain guidelines for motor vehicle dealers, distributors, wholesalers, and manufacturers — in a 87-13 vote Thursday after nearly two hours of discussion.
Among other things, the bill would restrict the right of first refusal for the manufacturers and distributors of automobiles when it comes to buying in-state dealerships under certain circumstances. In dealership contracts, automobile manufacturers have the right of first refusal, meaning that if the owner of a dealership decides to sell the dealership, the automobile manufacturer/distributor gets the option to buy the dealership before anyone else.
A similar bill was introduced during the 2023 legislative session, but the bill only made it as far as second reading before being placed on the House’s inactive calendar, where it remained until the session ended. The bill has been a priority for the West Virginia Automobile Dealers Association.
House Technology and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, said the bill is meant to ensure dealerships in the state remain locally owned and operated.
“We’ve seen when that right of first refusal is actually utilized, what happens is … that right is then assigned to an out-of-state dealer,” Linville said. “Over the last five years, we’ve lost 11 locally-owned automobile dealers to out-of-state auto dealers.”
However, the bill has come under scrutiny due to concerns that the proposed law is meant to keep automobile manufacturers and distributors from buying back the dealerships and selling to people they don’t want to see their dealerships sold to, including racial minorities.
Delegates Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, and Hollis Lewis, D-Kanawha, attempted to offer an amendment to the bill allowing manufacturers the right of first refusal when choosing to buy a dealership and sell it to minorities who have historically been underrepresented in dealership ownership.
“The intent of this bill was to support the good-old-boy system. The intent of this bill was to keep manufacturers from selling to minority owners ,” Pushkin said. “I don’t think that is what the intent of this bill should be. So let’s prove what the real intent is, which is just to promote fairness.”
The amendment failed, causing Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, to object to having the bill summarized, requiring the 28-page bill to be read in full. While normally done by House Clerk Steve Harrison or a member of the House Clerk’s staff, instead they had the bill put into a text-to-speech system and read by a computer-generated voice. But issues with the AI program — as well as objections from the House Democratic minority — caused House Clerk staff to go back to reading the bill.
The House also debated for nearly an hour Thursday on SB 687, making changes to the scope of authority for the Legislative Auditor’s Office. The bill passed in a 56-41, dividing much of the House Republican caucus.
The bill makes changes in how the Legislative Auditor’s Office functions, which manages the Performance Evaluation and Research Division and the Post Audit Division. Under current law, the legislative auditor conducts financial audits and performance audits of state departments and agencies, sometimes by statute and sometimes at the request of legislative leaders or other lawmakers.
SB 687 would put the legislative auditor under the authority of the Joint Committee on Government and Finance and specifically under the authority of the speaker of the House of Delegates and the president of the state Senate. Language was added allowing the Joint Committee on Government and Finance to direct agency reviews.
The bill clarifies that the legislative auditor does not have independent hiring authority, giving those powers to the joint committee. The bill eliminates fixed schedules for audits and makes audits up to the discretion of the Senate president and House speaker. The bill also removes requirements in code for audits to be conducted based on generally accepted government accounting standards used by the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the Governmental Accounting Standards Board.
Supporters of the bill believe that the Legislative Auditor’s Office over the 30 years since it was created in 1994 has grown too independent.
“We are elected individuals, working directly for the people,” said Del. Adam Burkhammer, R-Lewis. “I would like to have the ability to recommend auditing of agencies and boards when they ask me to … It brings the power back to us, which ultimately brings the power back to the people.”
The House Democratic caucus offered multiple amendments to the bill, which all failed though at least one came within four votes of being adopted. Concerns were raised about giving too much power to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House over what audits to do and possibly allowing some audits not to be published.
“They are our watchdog. Don’t turn them into a lapdog,” Pushkin said. “This is about our ability to make decisions. This is about our ability to govern, and our constituents’ ability to know what was going on in their government. This is about good government.”
“I’ve not heard too many complaints about too much auditing in the State of West Virginia. I have heard complaints about the misuse of funds in our state government,” said Del. Todd Kirby, R-Raleigh. “I don’t see any harm in leaving the code section as is … If this bill passes, this will be controlled by two people.”
Over on the Senate-side, a debate broke out on House Bill 5338, relating to safe harbors for cybersecurity programs. The bill passed in a 27-6 vote.
The bill makes sure certain cybersecurity protocols are met and maintained, and if it follows those procedures, it would act as an affirmative defense in civil cases brought against the company in the event of a data breach.
“This is a chance for us to be a national leader as it relates to incentivizing ways to better protect in cybersecurity,” said state Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha.
The bill had bipartisan opposition, who raised concerns about the bill being rammed through finance committees in the House and Senate instead of through the judiciary committees, and if the bill provided too much legal protections to companies.
“This bill provides absolute immunity to companies who make some attempt to protect their cybersecurity information,” said Del. Mark Hunt, R-Kanawha. “This is a bill that should have been vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is a torn reform bill and an immunity bill.”
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at

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