W.Va. lawmaker threatens slowdown until delegate disciplined

Del. Eric Porterfield | Courtesy: WV Senate
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia lawmaker says he will continue slowing down legislation in the House of Delegates until a delegate who confronted him over a bill is disciplined.

Republican Del. Eric Porterfield on Wednesday dramatically delayed House business by invoking a rule that required the often long and formal legal language of legislation be read aloud, instead lawmakers simply explaining their bills as usual.

The result was a drawn-out floor session where visibly annoyed lawmakers rolled their eyes and meandered around the chamber, with some leaving to grab lunch, as a clerk was forced to speed read the bills.

In a statement after the House adjourned Wednesday, Porterfield, who drew heavy national criticism last year for repeated homophobic language and likening LGBTQ groups to “ a modern day version of the Ku Klux Klan,” explained himself further.

He said Del. Brandon Steele, a Republican, aggressively confronted him in a parking lot over a bill that failed in committee, coming face to face in a way that made him nervous Steele might become violent. Porterfield, who is blind, said he could smell alcohol on Steele's breath and said Steele was intoxicated.

Porterfield said he spoke with House leadership and Capitol Police about the incident, demanding that Steele be disciplined. He also said he reserves the right to continue having bills read out in full until Steele's actions are “properly addressed.”

Steele, in an interview, strongly disputed that he was drinking, calling the claim defamatory. He said he was upset about the bill's failure and did confront Porterfield but not in a violent way.

“I called him a coward and a liar and everything else, and I was pretty hot, but I turned around and walked away and went to my car,” said Steele, adding that “these disagreements happen between us all the time.”

Steele said he apologized to Porterfield but that Porterfield said he must resign from the legislature.

“I think we all know it seems the only purpose he serves is to disrupt the process to bring attention to himself,” Steele said.

Belinda Biafore, the chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, issued a statement saying, “Republicans have lost all control.”

“West Virginians are losing out and footing the bill for these childish games,” she said. "We need to be focusing on fixing our roads, helping children that are homeless and in foster care, securing benefits and health care, and addressing so many more vital issues affecting West Virginians."

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