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Bill would protect employee privacy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A bill moving through the Legislature would give employees a little more privacy when it comes to their personal Internet accounts.

House Bill 2966 would allow employees to refuse to hand over passwords, especially those to social media accounts, to their employer without fear of losing his or her job. Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday there have been cases across the country where an employee thought he or she was wrongfully fired for refusing to hand over personal information.

"What we've started to see in some places among hourly workers in the manager hearing something was posted on Facebook that slandered them," Skinner said. "They'll say 'Give me your password so I can get into your Facebook account.'"

Skinner, a lawyer, said he's heard of at lest one case in the Eastern Panhandle where this happened. But Sen. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, said he thinks legislation is unnecessary because it's not yet a problem.

"Are we really protecting anybody?" Cann asked.

Skinner contended the bill would protect West Virginia workers.

"As our lives become blended and we carry devices in our pocket where we have access to our personal lives," Skinner said. "All of us have integrated lives where our personal and our business blend together. This (legislation) gives an employee some assurance they can have privacy in the workplace."

The legislation would allow employers to enter into employee's personal Internet accounts if those accounts were accessed using a company-issued phone or computer. Skinner said the bill addresses concerns that may arise outside of working hours.

"If you do use your computer the employer has the absolute right to monitor what they're doing on their Facebook," Skinner said. "It's out of workplace when it blends. When the manager hears that an employee posts something about them on Facebook from another one of their friends, that's what's protected on off time."

The committee is expected to take up the bill again during an afternoon meeting.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee also passed out two health related bills.

The first would protect nursing mothers. House Bill 4335, Child's Right to Nurse Act, allows mothers to nurse her child in any public place she is authorized to be. West Virgina is one of only a few states that does not extend legal protection to nursing mothers or their children, meaning proprietors can ask mothers nursing in public to leave.

The committee adopted a cleanup amendment and passed the bill to the full Senate. The bill passed the House on Feb. 26 with two 'no' votes.

Additionally, the Judiciary Committee also looked at a bill that would ban anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing electronic cigarettes.

House Bill 4237 treats e-cigarettes the same as other forms of tobacco, meaning minors cannot legally purchase them. The committee adopted a technical amendment and passed the bill on to the full Senate. The bill passed the House unanimously Feb. 13.

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The Senate is one step closer to passing a changed version of House Bill 4283, which would raise the minimum wage.

The Senate's version would give minimum wage workers 25 cents more next year, another 50 cents the year after and 75 cents more in the third year. That's different from the House version, which gives workers 75 cents more in 2015 and 2016.

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, tried to add another amendment that would bar minimum wage workers from paying union dues. Those workers could still be members of the union, but Blair said it is unfair for those unions to seek dues from low-wage workers.

"We grant all kinds of subsidies in government right now and we're trying to get people off the welfare roles, off the unemployment roles and back to work," Blair said. "This amendment makes it so we help these folks not hurt them. If they want to pay union dues, they can, but they shouldn't be forced to when they're working an entry level job making min wage. There's just something wrong with that."

Blair's amendment was soundly rejected. The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow. 


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