Kiss's speech on his residency

By The West Virginia Record | Feb 2, 2006

House Speaker Bob Kiss spoke on the floor Jan. 23 regarding questions about his residency. Here are excerpts from that speech:

What I want to do this morning is something that I think I have done only ... certainly I can count it on one hand the number of times in the 18 years that I have been in the Legislature that I have done this.

But, I feel some compulsion to do it and I hope that you will bear with me because there are some other things that I need to get into here. I can't not get into those issues without ultimately getting to my penultimate point which is the rationale for why I felt compelled to take the floor today.

So, if you will bear with me I will ultimately get to that point and I think it will then be better understood why I felt it was so important to take the floor today.

Generally speaking, as I said, I don't usually take the floor to respond to newspaper articles or newspaper stories. I don't think I've done it more than four or five times in all the years I've been in the Legislature. There was a story in the Charleston paper this weekend, a column actually. It was a story which was purported to be, I don't know what it was, it was purported to be a discussion on issues of residency.

As I said, I want to talk about those issues but that is not my fundamental purpose for taking the floor today. In regards to the residency issues, I suppose I am confused that this story or column or whatever it was, the indication from the self-proclaimed expert that was quoted in the story, and the reporter that wrote the story, making certain statements, never sought to seek any input from me.

This is an individual who I have actually taken time, at the office where I am trying to work and generate billable hours, to speak to. I have certainly not been unavailable to this person over the years.

The story basically is this, the story is one which purported to make assertions that I am not a resident of the district I represent and it was purported to be from an attorney here in Charleston, I'm not going to use his name, I don't know him well, I've heard of him and interacted with him some, he is a trial lawyer here in Charleston and he claims to be some self-purported expert on issues of residency.

The reporter then proceeded to do this column, which I think is one of the worse things that can be done by the press, which is to tell only part of a story. Apparently, no effort was made to tell all of the story, and for that reason I feel some compulsion, whereas in a normal situation I would ignore it, to respond to it.

This attorney opined that residency, under our law, which is critically important for all of us, it has to do with where you can be sued, those of us who are lawyers in this room, where you run for office from, where you vote and where you pay taxes, it is a critically important concept.

As many of you people know, even in West Virginia and certainly if you look throughout the country, people have a number of different abodes. The legal issue for a number of different indicia that I just discussed is, where is your residency? Where is your legal residency?

People can have dozens of abodes, they have one legal residency under the law for the purposes.

Simply stated, this attorney opined, and I don't necessarily disagree with his beginning general precept, that residency is bodily presence and an intention to remain in that place, under the law.

I think those of us who are lawyers, I think, would agree with me that is the basic parameters or structure of our law on residency. He then went further to opine that because of two things: One, because myself and my wife rent a house in Charleston, which we have done for years, and she did for years before we were married, is indicative that Charleston is my residence.

He opined that because our children, our four year old twins, are enrolled in a pre-school, actually technically incorrect again in the story, it is a day care pre-school program, that was not made clear in the story, that we are residents of Charleston. Again, I think what concerns me the most in regards to this part of the discussion, and I am going to come back to that particular point on my children in a few moments, because that is what got me to take the floor here today.

Let's talk about residency. First of all, where children go to day care, a daycare they have been enrolled at since they were nearly a year old. I would suggest to you what every mother in this State will tell you, that they enroll their children in day cares close to where they work.

I should also point out in fairness, this story also points out, and all of this is known, it is not any secret, that my wife and I work in Charleston.

Where would my wife put two 1-year-old children when first enrolled in day care? Close to where she works I would think. I think every other mother would do the same. Children get sick, you got to go pick them up, you've got to take them to the doctors, you've got to take them home.

My point is this, for anyone who is an expert in the law -– so-called expert -– to opine that where children are enrolled in daycare, under our Supreme Court decisions, is an indicia of residency, I'm sorry, I don't think they are an expert.

Where do you work? My wife and I both work in Charleston. Again no secret, my wife worked in Charleston before we were ever married. I started two or three years ago working in Charleston. As I said earlier, my wife rented a home in Charleston long before we were married.

We then jointly rented a home after we were married. I was Speaker at that time and spend a tremendous amount of time in both Beckley and in Charleston. It made economic sense.

What was unique about this column and what was unique about the expert's opinion and the reporter's development of that discussion or lack thereof, was that no one ever mentioned, and I apologize if I am wrong here, I think the case is Bland v. Bland, because I sure looked at it two or three years ago when I decided to run, and it was a case that was cited, I do know that I am not wrong there, it was cited in the cases that the column alluded to, the Chuck Polan dispute and the Gov. Manchin residency dispute.

So, I know this so-called expert, if he followed those cases, is aware of this case. It is a 1970s case, I think, and basically the facts are this, it's a divorce dispute, where also residency becomes a critical issue, the husband had some years prior to the divorce established a second abode away from the principle residence.

He did that because his job was located close to that second abode. The argument he made in the divorce proceedings was, my residence is in this county where I got the rental unit, it is in this county close to my work, and I don't think I am mischaracterizing this State Supreme Court's decision that said "No."

Residency is not, just because you decide to locate someplace and rent someplace for convenience because of where you work, that does not by itself establish your residency. That case is one which this attorney has to be familiar with if he is the expert he claims to be and one which the reporter should have been familiar with before he wrote the story.

Let's talk about other things because residency is a package of things but, as I said earlier, the one thing I will agree with is bodily presence and intention to stay in that place. Let's start there, where would you say it is your intention to stay, and I'll build on this in a few moments, where you rent a home or where you own a home?

Something else that was conveniently left out of the story – it was alluded to a little bit -- my wife and I own a home in Raleigh County. Left out of the story, didn't hit the print. My wife and I pay taxes, real and personal, the vehicles that we all pay taxes on and have ever since, never been anyplace else but Raleigh County.

Before I was in the Legislature, after I was in the Legislature, during the time I am in the Legislature, we pay our personal vehicle property taxes in Raleigh County. Ever since my wife was 18 years old and ever since I moved to Raleigh County in 1982 we have voted in Raleigh County. We are members of and attend church regularly in Raleigh County.

When we are not working, with few rare exceptions, we are at our home in Raleigh County. Vacations, weekends, that is where my wife's family lives. I don't have family in West Virginia, as many of you know I didn't grow up in West Virginia.

Another thing, and I am going to tread carefully, I am going to begin by saying this, I am going to allude to somebody else and I wasn't going to do it, but I am going to because it is also common knowledge in this body, but it never made the story.

The expert never sought to opine on and I don't know if the expert sought out the reporter or the reporter sought out the expert, I don't know. But there is another member of this body who owns a home outside of their district and their child is enrolled in school outside of their district.

Not daycare – school! I cannot prove this but I believe that this so-called expert knows that. Why wasn't that an issue? Maybe because that legislator votes the way this so-called expert likes. I don't know, I am not the reporter here.

But, now I want to get to my penultimate point. As you can tell I am upset but, you're not going to believe this, but it really isn't so much about the residency, this has been talked about. I've been more than willing to talk about everything I've talked about today before, but nobody has approached me or asked me to.

In Raleigh County they have, my constituents have asked me about it and I have answered it basically in the same form that I have here.

But, this is why I took the floor.

In the story instead of just saying where my children by county are enrolled in a day care or preschool, the column identified the specific school and its location.

Will the Charleston Daily Mail - Gazette, which is a combined effort Sunday paper, soon be putting in that paper where the editorial writers and the owners ... where their children or grandchildren go to day care or preschool? Is that what is coming next? Is that what we have to look forward to?

They also operate in the public domain, differently from where we are, but we all know that those papers from time to time have been ridiculed and attacked for their positions and opinions which they have an absolute right to.

That is not what this is about, that is not why I have taken the floor today.

It is wrong, just wrong. Someone in those papers that they purport to be responsible entities should have know better. The reporter should have known better. What also caused me to take this floor is what happened several weeks ago in Sago was Geraldo Rivera.

Again, they leave and may now write their stories that I am being over sensitive and over reacting, I don't think I am.

They could have reported this story and column and as I said earlier, they could have done it in an open way with all the facts and circumstances, and instead just written that his children, our children, attend a day care school in this county. They did not have to identify the school.

Why would they identify the school?

By what logic would you, given the discussion I have had today, given the fact as to all the things I've talked about that we go through as public figures and, is common knowledge to all of us? I believe I am owed an apology, I am not asking for one.

But what I am asking for is don't do this again, please don't do this to some other member's family, particularly a family with small children. People that are from time to time unfortunately disturbed and attempt to act out the fact that they are upset about something we do, why would you give them a road map?

There is no reason for that.

If they are truly responsible press organizations I am asking that they make a commitment to not do that again to any of us, anymore than they would identify where the principal owners of the Gazette or Daily Mail's children or grandchildren go to school under the same reason and the same logic.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

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