What a week!
by: Gary Zuckett
By week’s end, the Senate had introduced 585 bills and the House 934 for a total of 1519. Assuming that a certain number are companions to ones in the other chamber, let’s say that makes over a thousand attempts to add to, change, or eliminate functions of our government. Next Tuesday is the last day to introduce bills in the house. The following Monday the 20th is the last in the Senate. Then the countdown clock begins to the April 8th end of the session. It can’t happen soon enough. Everyday more terrible legislation is introduced. It’s coming at such a rapid pace that I’m getting whiplash tracking it in flight.
Budget Countdown Clock is Ticking
Speaking of countdown clocks, the latest chapter in the current budget war has governor Justice calling a ‘session halfway over’ press conference in front of a big screen TV outside his office. Huge numbers count down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the session is over. His “Save our State” tour is taking the message to voters that we must generate new revenue to keep us from “killing” our economy. His newly revised budget which adds more sin taxes to the mix and cuts the proposed increase in the gas tax down to a nickel was recently released last week.
SB 60 and HB 2132 seek to extend a DHHR pilot program requiring able-bodied SNAP (food stamp) recipients to gain employment of at least 20 hours a week or lose their benefits. While possibly good in theory, in practice rural counties have little if any employment opportunities so the result in the target counties is people cut off from nutritional support to fend for themselves. If this bill passes thousands more will lose benefits and hunger will increase since the foodbanks are already overextended.
Delegate Shirley Love (D-Fayette) summed it up when commenting on DHHR’s report on the pilot program, “We can safely say that taking away people’s food does not help them get a job.” Unfortunately these bills are getting little attention in the media.has passed the HHR Committee and will be coming up for consideration in House Judiciary. SB 60 passed HHR and is now in Finance. Call these committee members (especially if they include your legislators) and tell them what Delegate Love said.
WV has a pretty decent Consumer Protection Act. We don’t allow rip-off payday lenders to operate in state. However, if either of the two bills (SB 556 & 563) introduced by Judiciary Chair Trump succeed, banks will have a heyday – customers who get abused by lenders will have little recourse in the courts. These punitive bills will even make the consumer pay court costs if they fail to win their case. Contact members of the Senate Judiciary and tell them to keep our consumer protection laws protecting consumers, not lenders and bill collectors.
We Can’t Afford More Felons
Ever popular ‘tough on crime’ bills pop up like mushrooms every session. This one is no exception. Six new felony bills have been introduced so far. The most worrisome is SB 219, “Relating to conspiracy to commit crimes under Uniform Controlled Substances Act.” This bill would tie a judge’s hands by creating mandatory prison sentences of up to 30 years for drug “conspiracy”- such as riding in a car where drugs are found! Our prisons are already bulging at the seams with non-violent offenders who would do better in drug treatment programs. Conservatives seem intent on wasting ever more tax dollars on courts and incarceration. Luckily, cooler heads objected to the potential fiscal costs of this bad bill and had a second reference added to Senate Finance. Call Finance chair Senator Mike Hall and ask him to give this bill a mandatory sentence to the trash can.
Keep Those Letters Coming
It’s hard slugging it out with the corporate lobbyists at the capitol. However, one of the bright spots is checking the mail back at the office and seeing those personal letters of encouragement with a modest check enclosed. Julie sent out her WV Surface Owner’s Rights newsletter a few weeks back and member renewals have been a regular occurrence in our mailbox. Our regular Citizen Action crew has been keeping a stream of memberships coming in too. Your support not only helps keep the lights on, but bolsters our spirits. When the going gets tough it’s good to know you all have our backs and are back home making calls and sending letters. A BIG thanks to everyone who has sent in memberships or donations. If you haven’t yet it’s never too late. Click the donate button on this Update or drop us a note snail-mail to 1500 Dixie St., Charleston, WV 25311. Your Democracy thanks you too!
Voting Rights Under Attack in the Legislature – and we Need Your Help!
by: Julie Archer
First, some good news: Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted down SB 463, saving public financing for West Virginia Supreme Court candidates. This is an important victory for fair courts, and we appreciate that we were able to make our case before the committee to preserve this valuable and important program.
Unfortunately, several members of the House of Delegates have introduced a bill (HB 2781) to repeal the automatic voter registration (AVR) provisions enacted as a compromise to last year’s voter ID law. The bill would also limit the number of ID options eligible West Virginians can use to vote.
It has never been more important than it is right now to stand up for democracy and fair elections in West Virginia!
We need to call these measures what they are: voter suppression.
In a state like ours with the lowest voter turnout in the nation, this is no time to enact measures that discourage eligible citizens from having their voices heard and their votes counted – especially seniors, people of color, low-income voters and students, populations that are less likely to possess government issued photo identification and are disproportionately hurt by these measures.
The right to vote is one of the things that makes America great—we can’t let them erode our fundamental rights. If legislators are serious about protecting our elections, they will protect AVR, which has built in safeguards to ensure that only eligible citizens can register. It makes our voter rolls more accurate by eliminating outdated and duplicate records. Modernizing registration can also save the state and counties taxpayer dollars.
Click HERE to send a letter telling Delegates on the House Judiciary Committee to make our elections safe and secure by rejecting HB2781.
Water Policy Update & Call to Action
Shared from our Friends at the West Virginia Rivers Coalition
Take Action to Defend Our Water
If you’ve been reading our updates regularly are you’ve probably already heard about, or have taken action on, one of this session’s most high profile bills, the Toxic Water Bill, HB 2506.
HB 2506 makes changes to the way pollution limits are calculated and would increase the amount of toxins industry could discharge into our rivers. HB 2506 recently passed the WV House and will soon be taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee. West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC) created a fact sheet on the bill that debunks some of the most misleading claims made about HB 2506.
We need you to contact your Senators and ask them to keep toxins and cancer-causing chemicals out of our drinking water supplies by voting NO on HB 2506! WVRC has made it easy for you to send a letter.
This week we also saw the introduction of a bill we were anticipating, HB 2811, which would weaken the Aboveground Storage Tank (AST) Act by exempting more than two-thirds of the chemical storage tanks that are currently covered under the Act. The 29,000 exempted tanks owned and operated by the oil and gas industry also includes 2,300 tanks in what is called the “zone of peripheral concern,” which is 10 hours upstream from any water intake.
Read Ken Ward’s excellent article in the Charleston Gazette-Mail to learn more.
We need YOU to put pressure on legislators to reject these bad bills, and we know your calls and letters are working. According to WVRC, while the house was debating HB 2506 last week, you sent OVER 10,500 letters against the bill! Check out this article on how your letters helped convince a Republican Delegate to break party lines and vote against HB 2506.
Let’s keep the momentum going!
Grow Energy Efficiency Jobs by Urging Legislators to Pass the LEEP Act
by: Emmet Pepper, EEWV
Contact Speaker Armstead, Majority Leader Cowles, Finance Chairman Nelson, and Finance Vice-Chair Householder now and urge their support for HB 2744! Click here to write them a letter.
Introducing Valerie Woody, Our New Outreach Coordinator!
by: Valerie Woody
Hello! My name is Valerie Woody, and I am extremely proud to have been named Outreach Coordinator for WV Citizen Action Group as of March 1st. I’m a proud lifelong West Virginian, and as someone who has long been interested in politics and activism all my life I’m very excited to finally be doing this work in a professional capacity.
My roots in this state run deep. A little over a century ago, my great-grandfather Maynard was an eight year old coal miner, leading mules through the mines of Mingo County. He was only able to learn to read and write later in life because his wife made it as far as the seventh grade and was able to pass those skills on. Their strength of spirit and commitment to each other in the face of such deep poverty and exploitation inspires me every day to work my hardest to be my brother’s keeper and stand up for the people of this state.
Before the election of Donald Trump, I had hoped to one day return to college to pursue a career in the aerospace industry helping humanity reach for the stars. That November night transformed my view of the future. I knew at that moment that the progress we have made is threatened unlike any time since the Second World War. My purpose in life was defined in that moment: to be a tireless advocate for the values and rights I hold dear.
Our state is at a crossroads. We face unprecedented challenges, but also tremendous opportunities to transform the structure of our state’s government and economy. It is plain to see that the people of West Virginia are tired of the same old way of doing things, and it is up to us to build a coalition around solutions that put the people of this state ahead of the interests of large corporations. Together, we must build support for a bold alternative vision that moves this state forward and away from dangerous and dirty industries like coal mining and chemical production that trade a few pennies for the health of our future generations and the natural beauty bequeathed to us by our ancestors.
The fight is personal to me. I am a transgender woman disheartened to see my rights and liberties being debated in the halls of the Capitol and in the media, as if they are unworthy of equal protection. As a trans person I am unfortunately used to standing up for myself in the face of discrimination and exclusion. In 2014, I and two other transgender women were subject to discrimination and harassment at the WV Department of Motor Vehicles, justified by a policy dating back more than a decade that actively sought to deny us access to state issued identification solely on the basis of our appearance and transgender status.
Instead of giving in, we chose to stand up and fight—despite the personal risks publicly outing ourselves entailed. With the financial and legal assistance of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, we eventually filed notice of intent to engage a federal suit against the Director of Transportation, Director of the DMV, and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Thanks to the persistence of our team, we eventually settled with the state, ending this discriminatory and unconstitutional policy.
As part of the team at WV CAG, I am honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to bridge the gaps between the people of our state and the resources and skills that will empower you to become organizers and leaders yourselves. We are all in this together, and I am ready to fight for you.
Yours for Action,
Team WV CAG
P.S. Support our work? Become a member today!