CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The fight to pass prison reform legislation in the House of Delegates might not be between Democrats and Republicans.
As of Wednesday, it appears the Governor's Office is squaring off with the leadership of both parties in the House.
House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, and House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said they want to pass Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's prison reform bill this session.
But both said they do not like a provision in the bill that would allow non-violent offenders to leave jail six months early and enter into a supervised release program.
Armstead said the Governor's Office has been unwilling to address those concerns.
"So far that conversation has been trying to convince us that we're wrong, rather than listening to our concerns and trying to address them," he said.
Thompson said he has insisted Armstead and other GOP leaders be involved in talks with the Governor's Office because he believes the bill needs bipartisan support.
Democrats have 54 members in the 100-member House, so the bill could pass without any Republican support.
Thompson said he doesn't want it to work that way.
"What makes you think all the Democrats would support it?" he said. "To really, truly, endorse it, we need to make it a bipartisan vote."
The state Senate unanimously passed Tomblin's prison reform bill last month. Thompson pointed out that the Senate passed similar legislation last year -- the bill even included early-out provisions for some inmates -- only to see it die in the House Rules Committee.
Thompson, who is chairman of that committee, said he is categorically opposed to letting prisoners out of jail before their current sentences are up. He said these prisoners already have been denied early release by the parole board.
"We can't address prison overcrowding by just releasing people from prison early," he said.
Armstead said the six-month early-release provision would affect between 250 and 300 people in state prisons. He said the House already has found beds for those prisoners by transitioning the Industrial Home for Youth in Salem to an adult facility.
Tomblin last year brought in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project of the Justice Center at the nonprofit Council of State Governments, to study the state prison system and make recommendations to improve it.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative released its recommendations in January, recommending that some inmates be allowed to leave prison early but be supervised. Researchers said this would cut down on the state's prison population and also reduce inmates' risk of re-offending.