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We’re still sorting through the rubble of the 2017 legislative session but wanted to send you an initial analysis of some of the damage done, damage averted, and the few good bills that actually got passed.
Good news first – a lot of bad bills were killed off! SB 60 that would have dumped thousands off of SNAP (food stamps) died in House Judiciary. Both fracking bills died, the “Right to Trespass” never made it out of committees, and Forced Pooling died after passing the Senate. The bill to eliminate public financing for State Supreme Court candidates failed on a Senate Judiciary committee vote (See Julie’s in-depth analysis later in this update). The “Lemon Bill” allowing dealers to sell used cars ’as-is’ passed the Senate but died in House Judiciary. The bill to nearly triple the limit on campaign contributions and make it easier to hide “dark money” failed too. Many other bad boys bit the dust – good riddance!
Some Good Ones Passed
The Second Chance for Employment Act made it to the Governor. It will allow non-violent ex-felons to expunge their records if they stay out of trouble. Broadband expansion in rural areas through co-ops and municipal efforts passed over the objections of big cable and Frontier Communications. Hemp farmers got an expansion of permits to grow this industrial crop. Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) dodged the bullet and passed as merely a one-year delay instead of a total repeal. WV surprised everyone to become the 29th state to approve cannabis as a medicine. The bill that passed, SB386, was amended in the House to prohibit using the raw plant, and instead relies on manufactured extracts. It doesn’t go into effect until 2019.
Lots of Damage Done
Saving the worst for last, two terrible dirty water bills passed – Cancer Creek HB2506 – was signed into law by the governor this week and the Dirty Coal Water bill, SB687, also passed. See the WVEC’s or WV Rivers Coalition’s wrap-up for more on these.
Labor was again a target of the Koch Brothers legislative agenda with the passage of the “Paycheck Deception” bill, SB239, which creates more government bureaucracy just to get dues deducted from member’s paychecks. The Women’s Commission and WV Film Office were both axed. HB 2002 passed forcing under-aged girls who may be the victim of incest or other family abuse to go to court to end their pregnancies. Governor Justice can still veto both this and the paycheck bill so give him a call at 304.558.2000, and while you’re at it Thank him for vetoing the budget!
Justice Vetoes Budget
The dust has now settled on the 2017 legislative session. That is except for a little disagreement between the Governor and Republican leadership over how the state is going to pay its bills next fiscal year. Governor Justice surprised everyone at his Saturday night press conference announcing that he had a deal with the Senate on a compromise budget. That deal ultimately fell through and then leadership cobbled together a last minute budget that cuts Medicaid, public schools and higher education over fifty millions each. All these cuts are terrible but the cut to Medicaid is multiplied by nearly four as the federal program pays almost three dollars for every one that WV puts in. So, in reality, this equates to a nearly $200 million cut to health services for kids, families, and the elderly in our state.
Your Calls Worked!
Thanks to all you citizen activists, Governor Justice received tons of calls and letters asking him to veto the bad budget bill! He mulled over the Republican budget until Thursday when heconvened a roundtable of labor, business, and education leaders (but no envrios at the table) in the lower rotunda. He then launched into one of his (now famous) show and tell sessions where he outdid his mayo sandwich and ketchup no-burger bun by unveiling his visual veto statement on their budget – a copy of the bill on a platter with a pile of genuine bull-you-know-what on top!
The budget is always the toughest challenge when revenue is in short supply. The legislative leadership’s mantra is that the state has to “live within its means” – but what exactly does that mean? The state isn’t a family household or a for-profit business, it’s a democratic society trying to justly govern itself and make essential services available to its citizens. As such it must follow different rules. Using this Republican ‘means’ test to justify a cut to essential educational, public and social services is just an excuse to cut taxes on those who can afford to pay by cutting funding for life-saving medical and other services to those less fortunate. We don’t buy it! Our state budget is a moral document that reveals exactly what we value. Do we cut investments in our infrastructure and the education, health and well-being of our population in order to reduce the top income tax rates? If so, our moral values need to be revised.
Watch for more budget drama as we near the end of our state’s fiscal year on June 30th. Negotiations will now continue behind the scenes and the Governor will call a special budget session when he feels they are close to an agreement. We must have a budget in place several weeks ahead of this date or state functions begin to shut down. Remember, the best fact-based information on whatever comes out next is always the WV Center on Budget & Policy. Get on their mailing list to keep up to date. While you’re at it join the ProtectWV.org campaign as we all work for a moral budget that, as Governor Justice says, “doesn’t kill the patient.”
We also have to balance the WV Citizen Action budget. That’s why our members and supporters like you are so much appreciated. Your contributions have gotten us through the legislative gauntlet but the budget fights are not over at either the state and federal level. Health care is under attack in DC too. So thanks to everyone who has already sent in support, and thanks in advance to you all clicking here to give now!
Post-Session Awards Dinner May 19th
We are really looking forward to our Annual Spring Fling fundraiser and awards dinner! Every year around this time we invite WV CAG supporters to celebrate and honor the hard work and collaborative efforts of the past year. WV CAG works for progressive changes in policies ranging from environmental protection and consumer rights to good government and health care reform. We are not able to do this work without YOU!
This year we are honoring Betty Rivard with the Don Marsh Public Service Award, Former state Delegate Tim Manchin with the Si Galperin in Defense of Democracy Award, and both Jesse Johnson and Rusty Williams with the Thomas A. Knight Excalibur Award.
Join us for dinner and drinks. Bid at the silent auction with authentic items donated from local vendors, music, dancing, fun and more! We will enjoy the musical stylings of Christopher Vincent of Qiet, accompanied by Garrett Maner on instrumentals.
This is always a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, meet new people, and surround yourself with like-minded folks who want to have an impact on making West Virginia the best place to live!
Location: Woman’s Club of Charleston (1600 Virginia Street E., Charleston, WV 25311) Date: May 19, 2017 Time: 6:00-9:00 PM
Purchase tickets online by visiting our ticketing website here: 2017 Spring Fling.
Tickets are $45/person – $80/couple – $20/students and low-income
We are also looking for sponsors! If you, your business or organization are interested in sponsoring this year’s Spring Fling, please send an email to Alexandra@WVCAG.org. We look forward to seeing you on May 19!
Climate March and Rally with Music and a mini Electric Car Show
Join us Saturday, April 29th for a march to the Capitol where we will hold a rally calling for action on climate change and promoting a vision of a future that inspires us and gives us hope! There will be music, speakers, and an all-around good time with your fellow West Virginians engaged in building a New Energy and Economic Future. Along with sister marches across the country and around the world we will make our collective voices heard. If we reinvest in a new domestic industrial base and new technologies we can provide a stable income, health care, and education through massive investments in infrastructure systems from water, transportation, and solid waste to the electrical grid and safe, green building and increasing energy efficiency that will also create millions of jobs across the country right here in the Mountain State.
Join us for “Marcellus Shale,” a play with music, at the Alban Theater and Conference Center in St. Albans Arts Center on April 21st and 22nd at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students, and can be reserved by calling (304) 721-8896. Tickets are also available online by www.albanartscenter.com and clicking the “Purchase Tickets” link at the top of the page! As a part of Earth Day festivities in the area, proceeds will benefit the Ohio Valley Environmental Council and West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization.
Written by Paul Zimet, with music composed by Ellen Maddow, the play is being produced in partnership with Talking Band, a New York theater company that is a participant in the Theatre Communications Group Audience R(E)solution Grant. Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio is also a partner on the West Virginia production of Marcellus Shale; one of five productions around the nation. The local cast will be directed by Frieda Forsley of Charleston.
The play is based on the experience of a rural community in upstate New York which confronts important questions as fracking transforms the landscape and divides friends and family. This work is inspired by interviews the playwright conducted with people living on the Marcellus Shale and Dostoevsky’s “The Demons”. Marcellus Shale is the name of a rock formation rich in natural gas, and, in the work, its sedimentary layers are a metaphor for the complex, richly layered histories and lives of the people who live there.
The cast includes: Gary Brown, George Daugherty, Laura Michelle Diener, Stuart Frazier, Madelyn Greene, H. Wyatt Hanna III, Ariana Kincaid, Ty Miller, Janet “JP” Prince, Caroline Chamness Rainey, and Paula Ruckman.
Bills to Aid Drillers Die Along with Good Bills
As the session came to a close, you probably heard that the industry’s re-branded forced pooling legislation (SB 576) was officially declared dead by the chair of the House Energy Committee. In addition to SB 576, the other bad bills we alerted you about previously, including the “right to trespass” bills (SB 245 and HB 2688), also met their demise. This is good news.
Unfortunately, this also means that the various bills on our Surface Owners’ Rights Organizations’ legislative agenda did not make it through the process in time to become law. Although we are disappointed we weren’t able to see these policies passed and implemented this session, we’re pleased to report that our “land reunion” bill (SB 369), which would begin to reverse the trend of separate ownership by giving surface owners a first chance to own any interest in the minerals under their land that are sold for non-payment of property taxes, made it further than it ever had before, having passed the Senate 33 to 1. We are especially grateful to the WV Food and Farm Coalition for their support of this initiative and helping to make the progress we made this year possible.
However, most importantly, we want to thank all of our members and supporters who have taken action over the past 60 days. Your calls, emails, and letters to legislators, as well as your letters to the editor made a tremendous difference. Thank you for speaking out and making your voices heard. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Attacks on Democracy Halted
A number of bills were introduced during the 2017 session that would have negatively affected our electoral process, but with your help we were able to get through it without losing any ground. In a nutshell: a bill to repeal public financing for Supreme Court candidates was defeated, strict voter ID was rejected, and automatic voter registration was saved, while a bill to a that raised contribution limits and created new loopholes to allow more secret money into our elections languished in the final days.
Keep reading to learn more about what you helped us accomplish, as well as the work that still needs to be done to restore balance to our political system, end secret money in West Virginia elections, and ensure that eligible West Virginians have their voices heard and their votes counted.
Public Financing Repeal Defeated
Early in the session, a misguided group of senators introduced a bill (SB 463) to eliminate the WV Supreme Court of Appeal Public Campaign Financing Program. Thankfully, calmer heads prevailed as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were reminded why the Legislature had established the program, which was intended to help restore confidence in our Supreme Court following a series of scandals involving sitting Justices and major campaign contributors. It also helped to remind them that there was no financial benefit to repealing the program now. The Legislature made the program permanent in 2013, without specifying how it would continue to be funded, and most of the money previously allocated to the program has been spent.
So while the program is safe for now, securing a dedicated and permanent source of funding for the program is essential to its long-term success and viability, and doing so is likely to be a challenge as the state continues to struggle to balance and fill holes in its budget. As a result we will need to get creative if we want to continue this program, which is working as intended, giving qualified candidates for the court the ability to run without having to rely on contributions from lawyers and special interest contributors who frequently have cases before the court, and providing a pathway to the bench for those who aren’t independently wealthy.
Strict Voter ID Rejected; Automatic Voter Registration Saved
The same week the public financing repeal bill was introduced in the Senate, members of the House of Delegates introduced a bill (HB 2781) to impose strict identification requirements on West Virginia voters and to repeal the automatic voter registration (AVR). Fortunately, a House Judiciary subcommittee considering the bill passed a revised version that maintains the wide variety of ID options allowed under the law the legislature passed last year. The watered-down bill also keeps AVR in place, but gives the DMV more time (until July 1, 2019) to upgrade its computer systems and software, and implement the program. Although the House also applied the later effective date to the voter ID provisions of the bill, the Senate amended the bill to make the voter id requirements effective in 2018. The House agreed to this change and sent the bill to the Governor.
Secret Money Bill Languishes and Dies; Meaningful Disclosure Needed
With these proposals defeated or neutered, that left a terrible campaign finance overhaul bill (SB 539) that would have decreased disclosure of political spending while also increasing the amount of money that can be given to the candidates, political action committees (PACs), and political parties, alive and well in the waning days of the session. Having rejected attempts by Senate Democrats to amend the proposal to required disclosure of ‘dark money’ by closing loopholes in the law that make it possible for groups that spend money on political ads to hide the identity of their donors, the Senate passed the bill on a 21 to 12 party-line vote.
Fortunately, SB 539 was not taken up by the House Judiciary Committee. We’re glad the bill died, but disappointed that the Legislature didn’t pass a strong disclosure bill that would discourage negative attack ads, give candidates the ability to respond, and inform voters about who’s trying to influence their votes. Instead of passing a meaningful disclosure bill the Legislature passed HB 2319, which merely expedites the reporting of campaign contributions received by legislative candidates at fundraising events held while the Legislature is session. Under the bill, legislative candidates must report any fundraising events and all contributions received at such events within five business days.
We appreciate that the bill’s sponsors want to address the perceptual problem of legislators hosting fundraisers, and receiving campaign contributions from lobbyists and others while the Legislature is in session. However, if the Legislature wants to get serious about disclosure of 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.
Other Election Bills of Interest
In addition to HB 2319, two other election bills of interest were passed by the Legislature and sent to the Governor.
HB 2364 clarifies that restrictions on electioneering near a polling place on election day also apply to early voting locations. The bill also changes the current 300-foot rule to 100 feet so that the state will conform with other jurisdictions, as well as a recent court rulings that have deemed 300 feet to be too restrictive. The bill also provides exceptions to the electioneering prohibitions for persons upon their private property (such as bumper stickers on cars); and clarifies that electioneering on private property near polling places must conform to other existing laws and ordinances.
SB 255 relates generally to vacancies in elected offices and requires a vacancy to be filled by a person of same political party with which the person holding the office was affiliated at the time the vacancy occurred. The change was made in response to an unique situation that arose last year after the resignation of State Senator Daniel Hall. Hall was elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 2012, but switched parties after the 2014 election, giving control of the Senate to Republicans.
Hall resigned in January 2016, raising the question as to which party would nominate his replacement. Because state law is somewhat ambiguous, the decision was ultimately made by the State Supreme Court, which required then Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to appoint a Republican to fill Hall’s vacant seat. SB 255 makes the law consistent with the Supreme Court decision, but applies the requirement to statewide, as well as legislative offices.
Final Update on LEEP
Unfortunately, the LEEP Act did not pass its vote in House Government Organizations Committee, however, the discussion was based on a faulty understanding of the bill.
The bill will not be reconsidered, and has reached its end point this session. We thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts, for all of your support. You sent over 1,000 letters in support this session, and we couldn’t have made it this far without you. Thank you.
Partner Announcements and Actions:
Bring a town hall to Senator Capito!
Despite the efforts of multiple groups around West Virginia, Senator Shelley Moore Capito has ignored requests from her constituents to hold a public town hall meeting. At a time of unprecedented hardship for our state, and with the federal government threatening to eliminate funding for many programs that support our state, Senator Capito has not held any public events.
Hundreds of postcards, countless calls, and repeated visits to her offices haven’t persuaded our Senator that we deserve to be heard. Listening to constituents is a basic job responsibility of any elected official, and it’s vital to a functioning democracy. So why no town hall?
As it turns out, Senator Capito is scheduled to meet with West Virginians after all – at the price of $125 a plate. She’s dodged hardworking, ordinary folks at every turn, but has found time in her schedule to speak at the Huntington Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, April 20th.
Senator Capito’s representation is unaffordable to the majority of West Virginians, but that won’t silence our voices. We will host our own town hall directly outside of the event.
Join us in bringing a public town hall to Senator Capito:
Thursday, April 20th at 5:00pm
Big Sandy Superstore Arena (Huntington)
Brought to you by Rise Up WV and Tri-State Indivisible
Governor Jim Justice vetoed the House/Senate leaderships budget (HB 2018). This budget would have cut about $40 million in state dollars from Medicaid which means about $178 million total would be cut from Medicaid. We need your action today! Can you do 3 things?
1. Call Governor Justice and thank him for keeping his promise of not signing any budget bill that drastically hurt West Virginians. The Governor’s office number is (304) 558-2000.
2. Call House Speaker Armstead and Senator President Carmichael and let them know that you don’t support their budget cuts and that you want them to seriously come together with the Governor to pass a budget that eliminates these harsh cuts and raises revenue. Recent polling shows that over 76% of West Virginians support new revenue (i.e. taxes) should it mean continuing and strengthening support for public schools, higher education and the DHHR programs/Medicaid. The Speaker’s office number is (304) 340-3210 and the President’s office number is (304) 357-7801.
Possible script. “My name is (your name). I am calling to ask the (Speaker/Senate President) to pass a budget bill that will not cut Medicaid, schools, colleges, seniors or roads.”
3. Contact your local delegates/senators and let them know that you don’t support drastic cuts to higher education, public education, and the DHHR/Medicaid. They are back home, so try and see them in district and let them know your concerns with the budget and that you do indeed support revenue measures if it means eliminating these drastic cuts. If your delegate/senator didn’t support the current budget, please thank them and let them know that you appreciate their support of all these vital programs. It is anticipated that this year’s budget process may take a while and it is extremely important that legislators hear from you. They need to realize that their approach to the budget situation is not acceptable.