Wednesday, January 9, kicked off the 2019 legislative session with the Governor’s State of the State speech. By all accounts it was a ‘more normal’ presentation – part rah rah, part chest thumping, with a large dose of hyperbole, and in need of some serious fact-checking. See here for the Dems opposition response.
Every session starts out with a big slug of bills introduced. By Friday, Senators had introduced 284 and House members 333. The good news is most of these will die a slow death by never being taken up for consideration by their assigned committee(s). The bad news is that too many bad ones will get out of committee and have to be fought over when they’re voted on by the whole body.
Education will be a big issue this year – another teacher pay raise is promised. Bills introduced also push charter schools, higher pay for math teachers, education savings accounts, and more. Teachers around the state staged a ‘walk-in’ by getting to school early and rallying outside holding signs opposing charter schools, supporting more PEIA, funding and other concerns. Watch for more on education issues.
Big business wants West Virginia to create an intermediate court system so they can prolong injured workers’ and consumers’ lawsuits until we give up, run out of money, or die. The state Supreme Court and caseload data says it’s not needed and the $5-10 million cost could be better spent elsewhere. Sign this petition to tell your lawmakers we don’t need more courts, we need more justice!
The environment is a favorite target for the pollution lobby and this year is no exception. Even before the session began they got the Legislative Rulemaking Review Committee to ignore EPA recommendations on monitoring and regulating additional pollutants in West Virginia’s streams and rivers. Your help is needed! See message below from WV Rivers Coalition:
“In the immediate weeks, the legislature will have the chance to restore the updated protections (in Senate rules bill 167). We’ll need you to insist lawmakers protect public health and adopt EPA-recommended human health criteria. Next Thursday, January 17, the WVDEP will be hosting a public listening session on water quality standards. WVDEP wants to hear from you on the potential effects of revising human health criteria.”
What: WVDEP Water Quality Standards Public Listening Session;
When: Tuesday, January 17, 2-4PM;
Where: DEP Headquarters, Coopers Rock Conference Room, 601 57th St SE, Charleston WV, 25304
Death & Taxes are also on the Legislative Agenda
Some things, like death & taxes, we can’t avoid. This is also true at the legislature where annual bills appear to bring back the death penalty (HB 2033), declare that life begins at conception (HB 2074), and lower taxes on big business while generally raising them for the rest of us.
This year’s exception is HB 2001 which would exempt Social Security checks from state income tax. Of course, this is outweighed by their push for the elimination of the Business Equipment and Inventory tax – about 3 to 1 in cost of lost revenue between the two proposals.
This business tax cut gives a windfall to mostly big out of state corporations (read oil & gas, coal, and chemicals) and starves counties of the same revenue stream that funds local schools. How will we replace the funding for our schools? You guessed it, with expanded authority of the local county commissions to raise your property taxes on cars, homes, and farmland! No bill number yet, but get ready, its coming…
Legislative Resources – Be an Informed Activist
The WV Legislature has great public access through its website and we encourage you to check it out at http://wvlegislature.gov . There you can look up your Senators’ and Delegates’ phone and e-mail; and check out the list of bills introduced, which committees they’re assigned to, and track their progress. Citizens can also watch live video or listen to audio of House and Senate floor sessions and committee meetings. Talk about binge watching!
Another way to keep up with legislative antics is through several excellent media outlets. WV Public Broadcasting has a half hour evening TV show, the Legislature Today, which I record on my DVR and watch religiously. All shows are available as a podcast or can be viewed online at on the West Virginia Channel. Hoppy Kercheval’s Talk Line radio show broadcasts live from the statehouse every weekday morning and is also available as a podcast.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail is an excellent read. You’ll find many of the links in our Capital Eye are to the Gazette-Mail. However, to read more than a just few articles, you’ll need an online subscription for the duration of the session. Right now you can get a three-month, digital trial subscription for only 99cents!. This will help keep you informed all the way through the session. Consider supporting their award-winning independent journalism!
Allies in the Fight for Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice
The WV Environmental Council is a one stop shop for all things green, and the WV Center on Budget and Policy is our mentor on fact-based tax and budget issues. The WV Consumer Protection Alliance works for access to the courts, while the WV Healthy Kids & Families Coalition covers a wide range of social issues. WV for Affordable Health Care advocates for health care access, and Rise Up, our local activist affiliate, has lots of energy for keeping policymakers accountable. Subscribe to their feeds to keep up with the fast-paced legislative snowball that just keeps on rolling downhill, growing bigger and more massive until it crashes to a stop on Saturday, March 9. (PS: This is a short list, there are many other great groups that we collaborate with.)
This article is getting way too long, and I’ve only scratched the surface of both the potential damage and opportunities that abound during this current 60-day legislative session. We’ll be posting lots more so stay tuned….