Another week of legislative session has come and gone! While things aren’t so pretty in the Capitol, they sure are outside (thanks, global warming). Read up on what’s been happening in our weekly Capital Eye update below.
Frogs in February?
by: Gary Zuckett
Has everybody noticed that spring came rather early this year, like in February? One evening last weekend, a frog hopped across the road as I drove home in a light rain. At night, spring ‘peepers’ are calling across the valley where I live in rural Kanawha County. Daffodils, cherry trees, and even the northern Magnolia near the WV CAG office are blooming. Today’s weather forecast predicts temperatures in the 80s. What will August be like?!
Climate Caucus Forming
This is one of the myriad reasons that we’re working with other groups to launch a WV Climate Caucus. The frogs can teach us a lesson. I’ve heard that if you throw a frog into scalding hot water it will realize the danger and hop right out. However, if you place a frog in a pot of cool water then up the heat gradually, you’ll end up with frog legs for dinner since the lil’ critter just slowly gets warmer until it’s too late. It’s time to hop out of the cooking pot on climate in West Virginia.
Climate March in April
April 29th is a national day of action on climate, and we’re working with the WV Climate Caucus to hold an event in Charleston for folks who don’t want to burn the fossil fuel to travel to Washington, D.C. for the big march. Yeah, the 29th is the weekend after Earth Day, when scientists are going to have a Science March (everyone it seems is getting active these days!). Mark your calendars for both weekends and look for local Earth Day events where you can pass out flyers for the Charleston Climate March. Call or write if you want us to send you some!
Watch Your Wallets – Part II: Trickle-Down Taxes
SB 335 is the Trickle-Down Tax. We’re calling it that because in the name of “broadening the tax base” statehouse leadership is proposing a major restructuring of our taxes. They claim its “revenue neutral,” which may be true as applied to the state budget, but it’s anything but neutral for the vast majority of us taxpayers. Most of us (bottom 80%) would be losers, but a special few are selected to be BIG winners as these taxes “trickle-down” from big business and the top 20% to our middle and low income families.
No one likes to pay taxes so getting rid of the income tax is, on the surface, a popular proposal – until you look at the results. That’s when the sticker shock sets in.
Sales Tax on Steroids
To back-fill the billion+ dollars the budget would lose every year by the elimination of income and corporate net taxes, a “consumption” tax of 8% or more is being proposed. This, along with the elimination of all exemptions, amounts to a new sales tax on steroids. Their proposal is to apply this new consumption tax to every purchase including professional services, even health care. As we pointed out last week, WV Center on Budget & Policy calculates this will add around $1,000/year more to your family’s total taxes, even when the savings from not paying income tax is figured in.
The winners at the top end of the income ladder would gain up to a $27,000+/year windfall tax break!
Revenue neutral my foot! Who are they trying to fool? Kansas is in the middle of a self-inflicted budget meltdown as a result of “reforming” their tax policies; Republicans there are now voting to eliminate previous tax cuts to raise revenue. Here, SB 335 is about shuffling the deck chairs around as our budget is sinking in red ink. Any lawmaker voting for this bait and switch tax scheme should be voted out of office. Call your state representatives and tell them that, if they’re going to raid your wallet, then use it to plug the gaping hole in the state budget, not to give whopping tax breaks to the well-heeled.
Women Legislators Seek to Terminate WV Women’s Commission
The Republican Majority in the House of Delegates is pushing a bill to terminate the Women’s Commission and have lined up all female sponsors on the bill. One of the sponsors, Delegate Nancy Foster, even attended and benefited from one of the programs the Commission offers!
Hoping Your Wallet Likes Us
We are hoping that you’re finding these updates and our calls to action helpful! One of our newest members wrote us this week, and we’d like to share his note:
As a very recent new member to WV CAG, I appreciated receiving your e-mail listing news & upcoming events. Since I’m not on Facebook nor do I have the slightest desire to communicate on Twitter, I was imagining that I might have to repeatedly begin calling your office for information. So, just wanted to let you know that I’ve now been inspired for the very 1st time in my 64 yrs, to actually contact my local political representatives by writing to the offices of Mitch Carmichael & Tim Armstead re: keeping the AVR as it currently stands. I also registered to attend E-day as well as the Civil Liberties Lobby Day. It certainly must sound as though I’m bragging but I simply wanted to say thanks for the motivation – finally! – T.M.
These inspiring comments are part of what keeps us going during the marathon that is the WV legislative session!
Another thing that supports us is your membership contributions! Please take a minute to renew or become a member. If you’d rather not contribute online, a good old paper check is always welcome. You can send it to 1500 Dixie St, Charleston, 25311.
E-Day is Monday
This week’s featured group is another one that evolved out of our office here at WV CAG – the WV Environmental Council. For the past nearly 30 years, WVEC has been an effective voice at the WV Legislature, helping to pass common sense legislation to protect our land, air, water, and people and stop bad legislation that would allow further destruction and pollution to the beautiful Mountain State. Sign-up to receive their weekly update on environmental justice issues!
Next, Monday the 27th is E-Day at the Capitol and scores of member groups (like WV CAG, Sierra Club – WV Chapter, WV Rivers Coalition, OVEC, etc.) will have display tables. The day kicks off at 8:30 am with a public hearing on the Cancer Creek bill in the House Chamber. The afternoon is open for you to talk with your lawmakers about the environmental justice issues that matter to you. Register today!
“Right to Trespass” Bill Introduced in the House: Calls & Emails Needed to House Energy Committee Members
by: Julie Archer
On Thursday, members of the House of Delegates introduced a version of the “right to trespass” bill, which would give natural gas companies the right to access private property for the purpose of surveying without getting landowner permission. HB 2688 appeared to be on the fast track and was immediately taken up by the House Energy Committee. However, as the Charleston Gazette reported, the committee delayed further consideration of the bill after members raised a flurry of questions.
Committee Chair Bill Anderson (R-Wood), one of the bill’s sponsors, said he plans to put the bill back on the agenda next week. Please contact House Energy Committee members and your delegates and tell them to oppose this attempt to take away the property rights of West Virginians. Click here for a list of House Energy Committee members and their contact information.
HB 2688 is identical to SB 245, which we learned is much broader than last year’s trespass bill (SB 596). SB 596 gave pipeline companies who have submitted an application to and been assigned a docket number by FERC the right to enter for private property for survey activities. SB 245 and HB 2688 apply to any entity organized as a natural gas company under the federal Natural Gas Act, and include references to undefined terms such as “works” and “additional facilities.”
HB 2688 and SB 245 are modeled after a controversial law in Virginia that has resulted in landowner confusion and anger; criminal charges against surveyors; lawsuits against landowners for turning away surveyors; and counter-suits against the pipeline companies. The Virginia law has also created challenges for law enforcement officials who respond to property owners’ requests for assistance, and its constitutionality is being challenged in the Virginia Supreme Court.
See our recent litigation update for background on the recent West Virginia Supreme Court decision this bill attempts to override.
At this point, it is unclear what will happen next with the Senate version of the trespass bill (SB 245) and the industry’s re-branded forced pooling bill (SB 244). Both bills are pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump (R-Morgan) has not decided if or when he will put SB 245 on the agenda. SB 244 has been the subject of two stakeholder meetings over the past week, with no apparent hope of agreement by various interested parties.
We’ll continue to keep you posted. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, please tell your Senators to oppose these shameful attempts to take way the property rights of West Virginians.
Some Good News
The news isn’t all bad. Three bills on WV SORO’s legislative priorities list have been introduced.
On Tuesday, Senator Dave Sypolt (R-Preston) introduced SB 369, a “land reunion” bill that 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. We are grateful to the WV Food and Farm Coalition, who put the bill on their 2017 Policy Platform and joined us in lobbying for the bill Thursday at their annual Local Food and Farms Day.
Senator Sypolt is also the lead sponsor on SB 370, which would use royalty payments owed to missing and unknown heirs to plug orphaned wells. Both bills have been referred to the Senate Energy, Industry, and Mining Committee (EIM), and we’ve been told the committee will likely take up SB 369 next week. Since SB 369 and SB 370 both have second committee references, it’s important they be taken up by EIM as soon as possible. If your fingers aren’t worn out from calling or typing, please contact committee members and urge their support.
On the House side, Delegates Barbara Fleischauer (D-Monongalia) and Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha) have introduced HB 2170, which would finally implement the recommendations of the studies mandated by the 2011 Horizontal Well Control Act. In 2013, the DEP reported to the Legislature that additional protections were needed “to reduce potential exposures” and “to provide for a more consistent and protective safeguard for residents in affected areas.” HB 2170 would establish emission standards for noise, light, dust, and other air emissions from the drilling of horizontal wells; and increase the distance between wells and people’s homes to 1,500 feet.
It’s past time for the protections to be implemented! Please contact House Energy Committee Chair Bill Anderson and ask him to place the bill on the committee’s agenda.
Enough is Enough: Help Protect the WV CCPA
by: Emmett Pepper
Since our inception, WV CAG has advocated for stronger consumer protections for everyday West Virginians. One of the most important consumer laws in West Virginia is the West Virginia Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). It addresses abuses of consumers by debt collectors and others. For example, under the CCPA, people are protected from predatory lending practices and abusive debt collectors.
Over the past two years, the legislature has rolled back several provisions in CCPA and we have heard that there may be more attempts to roll back others this session. Here are some of the rollbacks of protections for consumers that we have already seen recently:
- Doubling the amount of delinquency charges allowed to be charged for late payments (2015 – SB 542)
- Allowing bill collectors to call 30x a week between 8 am and 9 pm without it being considered unreasonably oppressive. (2015 – SB 542)
- Making a shorter statute of limitations for bringing consumer lawsuits (2015 – SB 542)
- Giving more time to debt collectors to correct their actions when they charge more than what is allowed by law. (2015 – SB 542)
- Capping the amount that consumers can get in a lawsuit against debt collectors that violated consumer laws. (2015 – SB 542)
- Increasing the standard of proof to win against stores for unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent advertising. (2015 – SB 315)
- Adding a “modification charge” if a lender modifies a loan for a borrower in order to avoid foreclosure. (2015 – HB 2926)
- Allowing a lender to charge interest during the “rescission period” – the time when a borrower is still deciding whether she or he wants to stick with a loan. (2016 – SB 468)
- Increased the amount of money people are charged when their home goes into foreclosure, but isn’t actually foreclosed on. (2016 – SB 614)
- Watered down what “unconscionable conduct” means in predatory loans. (2016 – SB 614)
WV CAG believes that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. We think the legislature should keep the CCPA as it is and protect West Virginia’s consumers!
What YOU Can Do
Because these consumer rollbacks typically go through the Judiciary committees, please contact the chairmen of each Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Trump and Del. John Shott, as well as House Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate President Mitch Carmichael. Tell them:
- You support the Consumer Credit Protection Act and that giving away power to debt collectors is not good for West Virginians.
- West Virginians are struggling enough in today’s economy without having to worry about making it easier for people to get nickel and dimed into poverty by greedy credit card companies.
- To allow time to let the past two years of changes to the Consumer Credit Protection Act take effect and see how it works for consumers before opening it up again to being weakened further.
Mon Power and Potomac Edison Customers: Own a Business? Get an Energy Audit!
by: Xavier Walter
Businesses now have the opportunity to perform energy efficiency projects without using their own money, and savings that will provide instant cash flow! Using USDA grants, utility company rebates, and low interest financing through NCIF, a business will only have to pay as they save. This gives a building owner instant access to upgrade lighting, HVAC equipment, building envelope, and even renewable technologies like solar electricity.
Increasing energy efficiency projects will result in more money back to businesses, employ local professionals that can perform the work, improve neighborhoods, and save the environment. The first step is to contact WVU Industrial Assessment Center at (304) 657-5758 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.