Capital Eye: Finally, the Last Week

The countdown is on!  We are in the final days of the 2016 West Virginia Legislative Session…and to be honest, we can’t wait for it to be over.

As you’ve heard week after week, we’ve been fighting some terrible legislation that would hurt workers, consumers, families, low-income individuals, and the list goes on.  This past week was no different!  Read our latest Capital Eye update below to see what’s been happening and what you need to take action on in these final days.

Capital Eye

Finally, the Last Week
by:  Gary Zuckett

This past Wednesday was the cutoff for all bills to pass out of their House of origin, so our watch list has been whittled down significantly. Now committees in each body are dealing with the legislation sent from the other side and the legislature is hurling to its final finish at midnight this Saturday the 12th. We can’t wait for this session to finally be over!

This phase of the process involves lots of ‘horse-trading’ between the Senate and House over bills that leadership really wants to see passed. Many of these have already completed, been vetoed, and had the majority party override the Governor’s veto. The most recent was on Saturday when the Senate followed the House in overriding the Governor’s veto on the “Constitutional Carry” bill that allows gun owners 21 years or over to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. Don’t you feel safer now?

Deals Go Down

Sometimes these horse trading deals break down. Such was apparently the case with the demise of RFRA, the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA was rumored to be one of the top priorities of the House leadership and was said to be factored as part of the deal with the Senate to get the anti-labor bills through the House. However, when RFRA hit Senate Judiciary, it was amended and became the Religious Freedom Protection Act. When it hit the Senate floor the bill was further amended to protect local non-discrimination ordinances from being challenged. At this point neither the liberals nor the religious radicals could stomach it and RFPA was soundly defeated.

A Nuisance by Any Other Name

One of the bills we were hoping would not make crossover is named the Nuisance Bill. It is being pushed as a favor to the frackers whose drilling pads and compressor stations create the biggest nuisance imaginable. SB 508 will give a “permit shield” to any company who make its neighbors’ lives miserable (not just oil and gas), undoing hundreds of years of common law. See Julie’s article for actions to oppose this terrible personal property rights takings in the name of corporate profits.

Pee in a Cup for TANF

Another bad bill that could soon be on its way to the Governor’s desk is SB 6, which would require TANF applicants to pee in a cup to receive benefits if there is “reasonable suspicion” of drug use. Our Ciera Pennington testified against this misguided bill along with the ACLU-WV, NASW-WV, Healthy Kids & Families, Center on Budget & Policy, and others. In fact, no person or group testified in defense of this bill at the public hearing. Don’t confuse supporters’ arguments with the facts showing this has been an utter failure in other states and a waste of taxpayer dollars; they’re going to make sure no welfare dollars get spent on drugs even if it costs 10x more than it saves. If this passes, call on Governor Tomblin to veto this one too. If the legislature adjourns before the veto, it will stick this time.

If you’re interested in following SB 6, listen live to the House floor session the next 3 days.  It’ll be on first reading today, second reading tomorrow, and third reading by Wednesday.

Bait & Switch

Bait and switch is another old trick at the legislature. This tactic was employed to get SB 601 to make the crossover to the House. It was in trouble in Senate Judiciary when, all of a sudden, it was amended from a vehicle to bypass Solid Waste Authorities’ local control and give DEP the power to permit fracking waste dumps into a warm and fuzzy recycling bill! After moving to the House it was immediately amended back into a fracking waste bill in Judiciary and sent on to the House floor. See Julie’s article to contact your Delegates and ask them to just vote no on SB 601.

Last Chance for Second Chance

Even when a good bill crosses over with flying colors it sometimes hits a brick wall. This happened to the Second Chance for Employment Act. SB 411 would have provided a path for non-violent and non-sexual offenders who have served their time and kept clean, to have their record expunged so they could get a decent job and move on with their lives. After passing unanimously in the Senate, it was assigned by House leadership to the Industry and Labor Committee, which has no further plans to meet this session, thus appearing to kill it. Isn’t forgiveness of sinners one of the top religious teachings? Contact House Speaker Armstead and Majority Leader Cowles and ask them for a second chance for SB 411 by dropping the reference to Industry and Labor Committee.

Surprise House Debate on Medical Cannabis

At the exact moment the fate of the RFRA bill was being decided on the Senate floor, a remarkable debate spontaneously erupted on the floor of the house over passage of HB 4576 which would have increased sentencing for crossing state lines with intent to deliver a controlled substance from 1-5 to 5-15 years. This bill came out of interims without the inclusion of cannabis, but in the House Judiciary Committee the plant was amended into the proposed law. When this fact was brought up a floor debate ensued for over 30 minutes on why, when other states were in the process of legalizing cannabis for medical and even recreational use, we were about to send folks to prison for up to 15 years. A motion was made by Delegate Rowe (D- Kanawha) to send the bill back to committee but that vote failed. It seemed that the bill was destined for passage when Delegate Flanigan (R-Monongalia) got up and gave his first floor speech since being appointed by the governor to fill a vacant seat in January. Delegate Flanigan shared his current struggle with chemotherapy treatment for cancer saying that he realized he was beginning to become dependent on the opioid painkillers and had no appetite until a friend brought him some medicinal “cookies” from out of state. After that he turned in his pain medication and unopened bottles of anti-nausea pills and gained 18 needed pounds of weight. It was a very moving and emotional testimony which led to a successful motion to “table” HB 4576 effectively barring the House from further action on the bill. Kudos to Delegate Flanigan for a truly courageous testimony in support of medical freedoms!

Tax Giveaways & Budget Cuts

Phil Kabler, political columnist for the Charleston Gazette predicts that our state is in for a prolonged special session on the budget since most of the regular session was spent whacking unions and woman’s reproductive rights, protecting our religious freedom to discriminate, and decriminalizing raw milk.

On budget matters I’m reminded of the old saying “if you’re trying to get out of a hole, stop digging!” This came to mind as I listened to the surprised debate in Senate Finance, on the last possible day to get a bill out before crossover, about an “originating” bill that suddenly appeared on their agenda to cut King Coal’s severance tax by 40% over the next two years! Not to be outdone, big oil and gas got on this train as it rolled out of the Senate in time for crossover. The Finance Chair has already had all state agencies figuring out how many jobs and programs they’ll have to cut to pay for the budget hole that was already there due to lower than projected revenue from severance taxes and prior years’ tax cuts. They’ll have to double those numbers if this tax giveaway to the extraction industries passes. Southern coalfield counties are concerned that this tax giveaway will put them further in the hole too since they rely on coal severance revenue for a significant part of their county budgets.

On the other side of the coin are the tax hikes. Unlike the tax cuts for big business, these hikes are for you and me. Proposals have been floated to raise cigarettes by $1, raise sales tax 1%, add sales tax to professional services including telephone plans, and more. What’s wrong with this picture?

Of course we need new revenue to keep our state functioning and to rebuild our crumbling roads and infrastructure – we can’t cut our way to prosperity; however, we should be seeking methods to make up for lost revenue without making our tax system even more regressive – without asking those on the bottom to pay for it all. At minimum, a state-based EITC (earned income tax credit) should be included in any tax increase package to soften the negative effects on low-income families.

Remember in November
See the graphic at the end of this update for an invite to an end-of-the-session rally this Saturday on the front steps (river side) of the Capitol. This is being organized by local progressive organizers who want to keep lawmakers accountable all the way into the fall elections, thus the slogan ‘Remember in November.’ Indeed we all need to make sure that we get out and vote for Senators and Delegates who reflect our values. But that is not enough! This year we must all become ‘public citizens’ and make sure our family, friends, and neighbors also get to the polls. This year voting may not be enough. With the expected deluge of out of state mystery money coming in to keep our legislature in the hands of the conservatives, please consider getting out and working for the campaigns of your choice. Democracy only works when we work it!

Death in the Family

The WV CAG family was deeply saddened to find out that the daughter of our founder, David Grubb, who has been in a rehab program since last year, passed away last week. David shared his family’s trauma with the nation when president Obama visited Charleston last summer to make a statement on the drug epidemic. Our hearts go out to the Grubb family for their loss of daughter Jessica.

Fate of Anti-Nuisance Suit Bill Uncertain
by:  Julie Archer

As we head into the final week of the legislative session, we’re relieved that several bills to benefit the oil and gas industry have died.

Different versions of a forced leasing bill (HB 4639 & SB 646) that would allow drillers to lease jointly owned or heir-ship mineral tracts if a simple majority of owners agreed to sign, failed to get out of committee in time to be voted on by either the House or Senate ahead of last Wednesday’s deadline for bill’s to be out of their House of origin.

A bill (SB 596) that would have given pipeline companies planning the interstate pipeline projects the right to access private property for the purpose of surveying without getting landowner permission was voted down on the Senate floor.

And finally, SB 565, which would allow drillers to build well pads and access roads on a surface owners land without getting a well work permit, appears to be dead after the Department of Environmental Protection reached an agreement with industry lobbyists on a plan to better schedule and coordinate the review of drilling permits.

That leaves, the most concerning, SB 508, a bill that undermines our property rights by taking away the ability to file nuisance suits, still in play. While the fate of bill remains uncertain, we are hearing from legislators that the bill may not be taken up due to concerns expressed by House leadership that the bill is too broadly written.

House Speaker Tim Armstead publicly voiced his concerns about the bill Friday onTalkline with Hoppy Kercheval. Armstead said that while he thought the bill was well intentioned, it was too broadly written and one-sided. With only a week left in the session, Armstead said it would be difficult to sort through all of the issues and concerns raised about the bill. He said if the House moves forward with the legislation they want it to be something that protects property rights.

While it would be nice to declare SB 508 dead based on this news, we can’t sit back and rest on our laurels on this one. SB 508 is simply too heinous.

If you haven’t already, please contact House Judiciary Committee members andyour delegates about this terrible bill that would leave us with no legal recourse to hold irresponsible neighbors whose activities devalue and interfere with our enjoyment and use of our property accountable. Click here to see last week’s update for more details on SB 508 and who to contact.

Bill Would Make It Easier to Build Drilling Waste Landfills, Hurt Local Solid Waste Authorities
by:  Julie Archer

A bill that would make it easier to site and build landfills for drilling waste will be voted on by the House of Delegates later this week. SB 601 has been changed dramatically more than once since it was introduced. It started as a bill that would have made it easier to issue permits for solid waste facilities that accept only drilling waste. This would have been done by taking away the local control county and regional solid waste authorities currently have to approve siting of such facilities and eliminating the requirement that these facilities obtain a certificate of need from the WV Public Service Commission (PSC). The WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would have been the sole regulatory agency for such facilities, but their role would have been limited.

Last Sunday, SB 601 was hastily rewritten in the Senate Judiciary Committee and turned into a purported recycling bill. The amended version of the bill contained no reference to or mention of oil and gas solid waste. Instead the bill removed two types of “recycling” facilities, “materials recovery facilities” and “mixed waste processing facilities,” from the PSC’s jurisdiction. Under the amended version of the bill, these “recycling” facilities would still have to get siting approval from local or regional solid waste authorities, but would not be required to get a certificate of need.

Unfortunately, despite SB 601’s transformation into a “recycling” bill, there were concerns that solid waste authorities had that we did not know about until the bill had already passed the Senate. To make matters worse, after the bill was reported to the House it appeared almost immediately on the House Judiciary Committee agenda, where the oil and gas solid waste provisions were amended back in.

It is not as bad as the original introduced version. Oil and gas waste, materials waste recovery facilities, and mixed waste processing facilities would still have to get siting plan approval from the local solid waste authority, but would not be required to get a certificate of need from the PSC and would be completely removed from PSC jurisdiction.

So what’s wrong with SB 601?

1) It removes an important step in the permitting process for oil and gas solid waste facilities. More specifically it would be easier to site and build such facilities because they would no longer be required to get a certificate of need from the WV Public Service Commission and would be completely removed from the PSC’s jurisdiction. The WV Department of Environmental Protection would still be involved in the environmental aspects of the permitting process, but the DEP has no authority to limit the number of facilities that could be built or where they could be sited relative to other facilities accepting the same type of waste.

2) Local and regional solid waste authorities have concerns that SB 601 will put them at a competitive disadvantage with the “materials recovery facilities” and “mixed waste processing facilities” that are being deregulated by the bill, jeopardizing the public funding solid waste authorities have invested in their facilities.

There will most likely be an amendment on the floor to take out the oil and gas provisions, but we have to make phones ring and get emails in to delegates opposing this. So please call or email your delegates and tell them that SB 601 is bad because the Public Service Commission’s oversight is important, and prevents unneeded waste dumps from being built. However, the oil and gas provisions are not the only concern. SB 601 also puts our local and regional solid waste authorities at a competitive disadvantage with the so-called “recycling” facilities that are being deregulated, jeopardizing the public investment in these facilities.

Your senators need to hear a similar message. They may not be aware that the bill has changed, and some were likely unaware of the problems with the version they passed.

Appalled by the latest WVAM rate hike? Join us Tuesday!
by:  Advocates for a Safe Water System

Join us Tuesday, March 8th at Starlings to take action for public water!

A little over a week ago, the Public Service Commission granted West Virginia American Water a 15.1% rate hike. That doesn’t include costs from the spill that the water company still wants us to pay for–we know they’ll soon be back for more!
We need to turn our public officials’ attention to the real solution to our water woes: a locally owned, public water system. Join us for an evening meet up as we launch the next phase of our campaign, and help us get 50 letters for a public system out to local officials!

Tuesday, March 8th
Starlings (1599 Washington St., Charleston)
Join us for a fun, informal evening of drinks & snacks along with campaign
updates and action! See you there!

P.S. Check out the video on with Advocates for a Safe Water System’s Paul Sheridan, Consumer Advocate Jackie Roberts, and Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy to get the facts on the 15.1% rate increase and what it means for West Virginians.

Upcoming events:

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Capital Eye Vol. 17 No. 4

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