We’re here to help you pass the time as the snow continues to accumulate and keep you inside (if you’re lucky)!
Below is your first “Capital Eye” weekend update of the 2016 West Virginia Legislative Session. Curl up, stay warm, and catch-up on what’s been happening in Charleston the last 10 days!
1,062 Bills So Far
by: Gary Zuckett
Yes, that’s correct, day ten of the 2016 legislature and Senators have introduced 373 bills but the House has outdone them with nearly double that – 689! Thankfully, the majority of these will not “get legs” and start moving through committees, they’ll languish in their first committee assignment and never be placed on the agenda for consideration – RIP.
One bill passed out of the Senate this week. It was not any of the ones suggested by the governor to plug the huge hole in our state budget nor a proposal to get folks back to work repairing our dilapidated roads and bridges, nope. It was a purely political stab at the heart of one of the conservatives’ biggest targets – labor unions. SB 1, labeled (by promoters) as the ‘Workplace Freedom Act’ was voted out of the Senate on a strictly party-line vote 17-16. More commonly known as ‘Right to Work’, it would allow workers to skip paying for the union representation mandated by federal law when a workplace votes to join a union. No matter how proponents sugar-coat it, it’s a bald-faced effort to defund organized labor. One comment sticks with me on this issue. Jobs with Justice tweeted recently, “Calling it ‘Right to Work’ is like calling drowning ‘Right to Swim’”
Not to be outdone by the Senate, the House this week moved a total repeal of the state’s prevailing wage out of the Government Organization Committee despite protests from Democratic delegates that a ‘fiscal note’ be demanded so the committee would have some idea of that the financial effect on the state government would be, “It would be extreme and reckless of this committee, looking at the thousands of workers and thousands of employers affected by this, to make a decision without that information,” said Sponaugle, D-Pendleton in the Gazette/Mail article. Prevailing wage laws help keep local union workers employed by keeping low-balling out of state companies from underbidding state contractors on public works projects.
Tuesday morning, the WV Center on Budget & Policy hosted its annual “Budget Breakfast” with the theme: “Tax Cuts Poor Strategy for Shared Prosperity: Lessons from North Carolina.” Ted and invited speakers did a great job putting the numbers to “you can’t cut your way to growth.” That evening was the WV Environmental Council’s legislative Kick-off at the Woman’s Club which we here at WV CAG cosponsored. WV FREE held its Gala fundraiser Thursday evening to a full house.
Women’s’ reproductive options are also a target with an even dozen bills focusing on regulation and/or banning of procedures that should only be the concern of a woman and her doctor, not the patriarchs under the dome. Many of these bills are clearly unconstitutional or in violation of federal medical privacy rules such as the bill requiring that a woman disclose the medical procedure for which she is requesting Medicaid transportation. See wvfree.org for more info on these proposed restrictions.
Just in, the WV Supreme Court has settled the debate over which party gets to seat a Senator to replace Daniel Hall, the turncoat Democrat that enabled Republicans to take over leadership in the Senate when he changed parties the day after the 2014 election. The court sided 3-2 with the argument that since Hall was a Republican when he quit earlier this month to work for the NRA, that the governor should replace him with another Republican, even though he was elected as a Democrat. This ruling enables the Republicans to maintain the votes needed to override any veto on controversial laws passed early in the session such as those mentioned above.
From the “don’t confuse me with the facts” caucus, a delegate from the southern coalfields passed out sunscreen in preparation of the forecasted monster snow storm that send lawmakers home early on Friday. “You’ve got global warming going on. It’s not cold outside. It’s in your mind,” taunted Rupie Phillips, a Democrat from Logan Co. Note to Delegate Phillips, please read this: Why Big Blizzards In Winter Don’t Disprove Global Warming!
It’s not all bad up there. There are many, many dedicated public servants in the legislature that are working hard to do the right thing and opposing the ideological BS that’s being thrown at them. However, it’s taking its toll and several are not running for re-election. Many have served and sacrificed their personal time for years and it’s understandable some grow weary of the fight and want to retire.
This brings up a related issue – Elections have consequences. The current crew in charge up there wasn’t elected by a landslide; they were elected by the lowest voter turnout in the nation. This year we need to GOTV (get out the vote) to support candidates that reflect our values. Is someone running in your district that you support? Do more than just show up on Election Day. Put some time into getting them elected – volunteer to make phone calls, knock on doors, stuff envelopes, pass out flyers at local events. Become an active participant in your democracy, it’s the only one we’ve got and it sure needs some TLC at present.
Even better, we need new progressive folks to run for office. How about you? We can’t afford to have dozens of conservative candidates go unchallenged in 2016 like ’04. Give us a call if you want more information about your district and the process to become a contender. But don’t wait – the deadline to file is January 30th.
After the blizzard, consider coming down to the capitol for a day during one of the events next week (and beyond!) – there is something for everyone:
Lastly but still important, renew your membership or send in an extra donation to support your agenda at the legislature – Clean air, water; open government; fair taxation; strong consumer protections; access to the civil justice system; energy efficiency and renewables; civil rights and juvenile justice and lots more. A big thank you for your support, our work here depends on citizens like you!
Local Energy Efficiency Partnership (LEEP) Act (SB 370) Introduced
by: Emmett Pepper
The Local Energy Efficiency Partnership Act has been re-introduced this year, and is in a much stronger position to pass. If you’re not familiar, LEEP is a funding mechanism that empowers commercial building owners to make their buildings more efficient and pay for the upgrades on their tax ticket. The upgrades are funded by privately held bonds that are backed by the energy savings.
Last year, we were still working out the details of the bill at this stage, so we have hit the ground running this year with SB 370, thanks to our Senate sponsors, Senators Walters (R, Putnam) and Miller (D, Greenbrier)! While the LEEP Act has technically not yet been introduced in the House, we know that it has been submitted by Delegates Hanshaw (R, Clay) and Fleischauer (D, Monongalia), and will soon be assigned a number. To keep the positive momentum going, we need to send quick “thank yous” to our sponsors! Tell them you:
* Appreciate them introducing the LEEP Act again in 2016
* Believe that the LEEP Act can help broaden West Virginia’s economic base
* Look forward to working in your own community to help make it easier for businesses and families to take control of their energy bills.
Here are the email addresses of the sponsors, to send them thank-yous!
Meaningful Reform Needed to Disclose Campaign Cash
by: Julie Archer
The House Judiciary Committee has advanced two bills as part of the Republican leadership’s agenda to improve transparency and accountability in government.
The first, HB 2588, would require all candidates for elected office to file their campaign finance reports online using an internet-based program created by the Secretary of State. Candidates for statewide office have been required to submit their reports electronically for some time, and it’s past-time for candidates for the Legislature and other elected offices to be required to do the same. Although candidates could still request and be granted a hardship exemption, electronic reporting would streamline filing and oversight, making it easier for the Secretary of State to audit and monitor campaign finance reports for compliance.
Electronic filing would also make it possible to develop a searchable, online database of contributors to West Virginia political campaigns. This would be much more meaningful and user friendly for the public than viewing scanned documents that aren’t searchable and are sometimes illegible. If HB 2588 passes, we hope the Secretary of State will establish such a database, even though it is not required. We’d also like to see the online reporting mandate apply not only to candidates but also to all political contributions and spending, including third parties making independent expenditures. With third party political spending playing an ever growing role in our elections, thanks to the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, it’s more important than ever that this spending be disclosed, and be disclosed in a meaningful and timely way.
Unfortunately, on the sixth anniversary of the decision, it remains to be seen whether the Legislator will take action or continue to allow millionaires and billionaires to write six-figure checks for mud-slinging ads without disclosing their identity. This brings us to HB 4001, which would expedite the reporting of campaign contributions received by candidates for the Legislature, Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, Attorney General, and Commissioner of Agriculture while the Legislature is session. Under the proposal, candidates for these offices would have to report contributions greater than $250 within 10 days of receiving them. The accelerated reporting would also apply to any fundraising events held by a candidate while the Legislature is in regular or special session.
We appreciate that the bill’s sponsors want to address the perceptual problem of legislators and other elected officials receiving campaign contributions from lobbyists and others while the Legislature is in session. On the other hand, while the bill may deter some political spending during legislative sessions, it does nothing to discourage or prevent wealthy donors and special interests from making large donations to candidates the rest of the year. Moreover, direct contributions to candidates are (at least for now) subject to contributions limits and are already required to be disclosed.
We certainly don’t deny the corrupting influence these contributions can have, which is why we have long advocated for public financing of elections to enable candidates run for office without having to rely on contributions from wealthy donors and special interests. However, if the Legislature wants to get serious about disclosing campaign cash, they should make sure every secret money group – liberal and conservative – attempting to sway election results has to disclose where the money came from. Our right to know who is influencing our elections is not a partisan issue. No matter your political beliefs, we all benefit when we know what is going on in the government.
Even Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia supports increasing transparency and disclosure in our elections. In the Citizens United decision he wrote, “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.” The Legislature shouldn’t allow this lowly form of campaign cowardice to continue.