2024 Legislative Session: It Just Keeps on Happening

The legislature gaveled out in March after passing 279 bills to the governor’s desk. The governor vetoed seven of them, including a controversial one loosening school vaccination requirements and a popular bipartisan effort to allow our electric utilities to build more solar power in our state. Remember, Big Jim makes lots of money from his coal mines and evidently doesn’t mind being seen as protecting his interests through his official acts as governor. Remember, this governor refused to place his business holdings into a blind trust as is (or was) the NORMAL procedure for our highest elected official.

The conservative majority ignored Net Metering and Community Solar bills and a Medicaid Bridge to Work bill, which we’ve worked on for years. However, sometimes, we measure wins by the terrible bills we keep from becoming law. HB 5018 – restricting the use of our community air monitoring data – was an industry-backed bill that stubbornly survived until the last few days of session. We defeated the bill working with allied groups and concerned citizens (like you) ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice! For a deeper dive into the environmental efforts at the capitol, please visit our wrap-up at ppls.ac/CAGwrapup and the WV Environmental Council’s summary at ppls.ac/WVECwrapup.

As usual, the leaders in the two chambers got together in the final days of the session and cut some deals to get key bills passed. This horsetrading looks something like, ‘You pass my bill in the House, and we’ll pass yours in the Senate.’ Mountain State Spotlight (ppls.ac/MountainState) spun it like this:  “Del. Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, who delivered an impassioned speech against the unemployment bill, said the two chambers had made a trade — unemployment in exchange for pay raises and Social Security. Del. Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, the House Majority leader, would only say he was glad to see “good legislation being passed.” Del. John Hardy, R-Berkeley, was more coy.  “It’s the last night,” he said. “Things happen.”

These bills passed: one to cut Unemployment Compensation, add more layers of paperwork for unemployed workers and make it harder for them to collect, and the other to eliminate the state income tax on Social Security payments to seniors, regardless of their income level.

One of the hazards of leading a supermajority in the legislature is that their caucus is so large that getting them to agree on ‘must pass’ legislation can be a heavy lift. This is in our favor as the extreme MAGA wing kept throwing tantrums and mucking up the works. As a result (and with lots of help from us), a lot of really bad bills died, including a “Woman’s Bill of Wrongs” (attacking transgender folks) and the one to bring criminal charges against teachers and librarians for books or lessons someone might have an objection to. Phew!

Unlike last year, when they ran out of bills to pass 20 minutes before midnight, this year, they ran out the clock with several high-profile bills still in the hopper. There was even a little last-minute drama when Kanawha County Delegate Mike Pushkin stood up and did a five-minute filibuster to run out the House clock to prevent them from passing a constitutional amendment ballot measure to prohibit non-citizens from voting in WV elections, which is already illegal. 

One constitutional amendment that you’ll be asked to weigh in on in November is HJR 28, which says, “No person, physician, or health care provider in the State of West Virginia shall participate in the practice of medically assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing of a person” (which, again, is already illegal in WV). Our ACLU affiliate is already forming a coalition to oppose this additional affront to our bodily autonomy.

The issues that weren’t addressed during the 2024 Session are significant. Childcare deserts are preventing parents from working in our state, which has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the country. The state is warehousing foster kids in motels both locally and out of state. Higher education is imploding and too expensive. State correctional facilities are still in crisis even with recent modest pay raises. I could go on and on.

But wait, there’s more! As we were going to press, our lame-duck governor (hoping for a US Senate seat) threw out 15 bills and called the legislature into special session. With a now lame-duck Senate president, the House and Senate sparred over funding for IDD waiver for Medicaid patients with disabilities, with the Senate thumbing their nose and going home instead of to a conference committee. (see Medicaid’s Wild Ride on page 8) Also, check out WV Spotlight’s coverage (ppls.ac/MSS2024update)

Besides moving hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue from various accounts to patch holes in the budget, the 14th item on the governor’s call was “Relating to political party nomination of presidential electors.” This turned into SB1014, dispatched out of the Senate on the first evening of the Special Session (using their new trick of suspending the rules and due process). When it hit the House floor Del Fluharty proposed a really astute one-sentence amendment to the bill, “Any person that fraudulently represents that he or she is serving as a presidential elector who was not lawfully elected or appointed shall be guilty of a felony and be subject to imprisonment in a state correctional facility for a period of one to three years and be subject to a fine of up to $5,000.” However, the Republican majority frowned on his proposal and voted it down. Thanks, Delegate, for at least rubbing their noses in it!

Is it really over? No, it’s never really over. See, there’s this thing in the Income-tax bill passed last year called a ‘trigger.’ Yeah, every time I hear that term, I imagine putting a gun to the state’s budget – and that’s exactly what this ‘trigger’ does – they’ve built-in automatic additional reductions in the state’s income tax that are ‘triggered’ by having a certain amount of “surplus revenue.” This is where we get into the weeds so I’ll stop here and direct you to the WV Watch (westvirginiawatch.com) or WV Center on Budget & Policy (www.wvpolicy.org.) Even the Senate Finance chair, Tarr is having second thoughts about this setup as we move into the next fiscal. Needless to say, our next governor will have to clean up the mess made by the present supermajority’s overreaching giving away state revenue w/o having any replacements to sop up the red ink. Stay tuned…

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