We hope your Valentine’s Day weekend was full of lots of flowers and chocolate! Today, whether you’re stuck inside with the kids on a snow day or hard at work, we hope you’ll fill some time with reading this update and taking action. We’ve reached the midway point of the 2016 legislative session; now is the time it’s imperative you take action and let your voice be heard!
by: Gary Zuckett
Thursday, February 11th was the 30th day of this 60 day session. By then, 577 bills had been introduced in the Senate and 936 in the House. So far all that has gotten passed is the ideological bucket list of the conservative agenda – Right to Work, Prevailing Wage elimination, and now it seems that RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) and drug testing for TANF (welfare) recipients will also pass. Voter ID has also gotten “legs”. No matter that our budget is in the red; our state has the lowest worker participation rate in the nation; our roads, bridges, and schools are crumbling and public employees’ health insurance (PEIA) is under water. Nope, first things first, we’ve finally wacked the unions, now we’ve got to get right with God and make sure no one votes without a picture ID.
Problem Looking for Solution
In juxtaposition between national and state politics – House Judiciary moved voter ID (HB 4013) on the same day that president Obama returned to address the Illinois Assembly back in his home state. The topic of his speech? Voting rights and the corrupting influence of too much (especially secret) money in politics. Our voter ID bill is another out of the Koch Brothers’ toolbox to ensure that minority and low-income voters have a harder time exercising their right to vote. It is truly a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. In our state the only significant vote fraud has historically be initiated by our elected officials and candidates for office as federal prosecutors have thoroughly demonstrated.
Lawmakers on Friday overrode both of the Governor’s vetoes of the Right to Work (for less) and prevailing wage repeal bills. These two anti-labor laws will go into effect this spring. Labor is now mounting a campaign entitled “Remember in November” to hold those elected officials accountable. An ALF-CIO notice came across my screen yesterday for the kick-off of this effort – a “right-to-work” is still WRONG for West Virginia protest outside of a fundraising dinner honoring Senate President Bill Cole. They’ll meet at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 16th outside the Equities House, located at 900 Virginia Street East in downtown Charleston. Feel free to join in the fray. Better yet, make sure all your friends, neighbors. and family areregistered to vote and actually get out and do it!
RFRA Passes House
The House passed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act on Thursday and sent it to the Senate, despite the fact that our religious freedom doesn’t need restoration since it’s adequately protected by both the federal First Amendment and the WV Constitution. Watch Delegate Mike Puskin, the only Jewish member of the House, explain to delegates the real meaning of religious persecution. We’re hearing the Senate has some misgivings on this issue, so contact your senators to inform them of your concerns with this bill.
Not All Bad
Amid the gloom and doom of this session, there exist rays of light. A public hearing this week on HB 4334 drew 5 times the supporters vs. opponents, includingtestimony from WV CAG. Already the law in 22 states, this bill allows APRNs (Advance Practice Registered Nurses) to practice to the full extent of their training. With so many areas of our state medically underserved, passage of this would be a big step forward.
We’re also hopeful that the LEEP bill (SB370), allowing an alternative source of funding for commercial energy efficiency upgrades, will finally get onto the Senate Energy Committee agenda and begin to move. This one is a win-win for both small business and the environment.
During times like these, it’s good to know you, our members, have our back. Even in better times much of our job is fighting off horrendous (and just ill-conceived) policy with an occasional win for our side. However, if the progressive community was not there with a united voice, so many more misguided bills would become law. Winning is often measured in what we are able to derail – such is the nature of this runaway legislative train.
A big thanks to all who have generously sent in their memberships and even a little extra to help us keep up the fight! If you haven’t yet, becoming a member is easy. Click here or send a check to 1500 Dixie St., Charleston, WV 25311 – whichever you prefer. Be part of the solution!
Action Needed to Stop SB 508: Bill Eliminates Laws That Ensure You Can Feel Safe and Enjoy Your Home
Last week we told you about SB 508, a bill that would take away citizens’ ability to bring “nuisance” suits against against oil and gas drillers or others who engage in activities that harm their property values or interfere with the enjoyment and use of their property. If SB 508 passed, property owners would be left with no legal recourse to hold irresponsible neighbors accountable for their actions.
On Friday, the bill was taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee. During the committee meeting, members heard from Ritchie County landowner Jim Shreves about what it is like to live in an area of the state that is the heart of Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Jim, who is one of the hundreds of West Virgina residents who have filed nuisance suits against the oil and gas drillers, told the committee, “I couldn’t give my property away.”
After some discussion, the bill was sent to a subcommittee for further consideration. The subcommittee which is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, will make recommendations to the full Judiciary Committee as to what should happen with the bill.
Please continue to call, email and use social media to oppose this bill. If you’ve been personally affected, please share your story. Your stories matter!!!
Things you can do:
1) Keep calling your legislators and urge them to vote no on SB508;
2) Cut and paste the link below to your friends and family and urge them to take action on this horrible piece of legislation;
3) Get on Facebook and like the posts opposing SB508 (see below);
4) If your affected, we may need you to come to Charleston on short notice. If this bill passes the Senate we will need people to come and testify before the House of Delegates.
Here is the link to the WV Association for Justice (WVAJ) Facebook page with information on SB 508. Like it!
WVAJ has also created a page to easily to contact your legislators again and urge them to vote NO on SB508.
Again, please, share these links with your friends, family, neighbors, and fellow West Virginians, and keep an eye out for more information on this bill later this week.
Consumer protection: Give people more control over their paychecks
by: Emmett Pepper
Since our inception, WV CAG has advocated for stronger consumer protections for everyday West Virginians. There are several bills this session that chip away at protections for consumers and give a little more power to employers, creditors, and banks. These bills make changes that can be somewhat complicated and wonky, but can together have a large impact on working-class West Virginians’ lives.
I wanted to highlight one such bill this week that deals with how workers get paid, as well as a bill that is improving protections for consumers. There are actually a few bills that that relate to how employers can get affect how their employees get paid, but only these two are moving through committees, so far anyway.
Currently, employees have protections and warnings that allow them to have control over how they get paid and whether money can be taken from their checks. Specifically, an employer is not allowed to require an employee get paid via direct deposit or payroll card. Also, in order to have a wage assignment taken out of an employee’s paycheck, an employer must have the employee sign a notarized document on an annual basis. Wage assignments are often used for
things like uniforms or tools that an employer pays for, but wants the employee to pay for out of the employee’s paycheck.
A few bills have been introduced on these topics, but the one that is moving the most quickly is SB 290, which is sponsored by Senator Charles Trump (R-Morgan), the powerful chair of the Judiciary Committee. The current version of the bill addresses both the payroll card and wage assignments issues. For payroll cards, the current language would permit an employer to force an employee to be paid by payroll card, a provision that would appear to violate a federal law, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. Senate Majority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) added an amendment on the Senate floor that improved the bill by making sure that employees will not get charged fees for doing things like retrieving funds or replacing a lost or stolen card, and by disallowing a daily limit on withdrawals.
Another aspect of SB 290 is that it will allow employers to make a never-ending wage assignment, as long as they get their employee to sign a document once. Senator Mike Romano (D-Harrison) added an amendment to the bill when it was being discussed in the Judiciary Committee that required an amendment, but there is no limit to how long these assignments can last. The bill has been approved by the Senate and is assigned to the House Judiciary Committee on the House side.
Given the history of company stores, being paid in scrip, and other abuses by employers, West Virginians are rightfully wary about giving more power to employers over the paychecks of their employees. We need to maintain the laws that protect employees from their employers.
On the flipside, HB 4417 is a good bill going through now that increases the amount of peoples’ paychecks that is protected from court-ordered wage garnishment to around $360 a week. The bill is sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman, Delegate John Shott. Having at least $360 a week will help working class West Virginians be able to meet their basic needs, while also meeting their legal obligations. The House Judiciary Committee recently approved the bill and it is headed to the floor for approval.
Please contact the members of the House Judiciary Committee. Thank them for approving HB 4417 and tell them to either make some improvements to SB290 or vote against it. Tell them that you believe paychecks belong to the employee and should be under their control. Here are two ways SB 290 can be improved:
- Give employees the right to decide whether or not they want to receive their pay through a payroll card, and
- Reinstate the time limit for how long a wage assignment can last without having the employee sign off on it again.
Be sure to be respectful and ask for a response to your concerns. Below are the members of the House Judiciary Committee. Send an email to them by copying the list below and pasting into your email ‘To’ field.
House of Delegates Likely to Vote on Voter ID Requirement This Week
by: Julie Archer
The headline at Think Progress on Friday was, “West Virginia Pushes Bill That Could Make Its Dismal Voter Turnout Worse.” You read that right. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced HB 4013, a bill requiring voters to provide photo id when voting. The bill passed the committee on a strict party-line vote, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats opposed. Although the bill has not yet been reported to the House floor, we expect a vote on the bill later in the week.
In the 2014 election, only 37% of West Virginia voters cast ballots – the lowest turnout in at least six decades. In 2012, the state ranked 50th in nation, the only state where less than half of eligible voters went to the polls. With such “dismal” turnout, this is no time to enact measures that risk further depressing the vote – especially the vote of seniors, people of color, low-income voters and students, populations that are less likely to possess government issued photo identification.
HB 4013 is less strict compared to voter id laws adopted by other states. As noted inthe Gazette-Mail article, voters who lack photo identification could still cast a provisional ballot and potentially have their votes counted without taking additional action. Additionally, the Judiciary Committee adopted an amendment by Delegate Larry Rowe (D-Kanawha) that would allow another voter or a poll worker to vouch for the identity of the voter, enabling them to vote a regular ballot. Other amendments adopted would allow older voters to use expired forms of photo identification with a recognizable photograph, as well as some forms of government issues identification that lack photo, such as Medicare and Social Security cards.
While these changes make the bill less objectionable, it remains to be seen if they will remain part of the bill. However, and perhaps more importantly, there’s no evidence of the problem that the voter id bill would address.
Voter fraud, and more specifically, voter impersonation, is virtually nonexistent. A comprehensive search of federal and state records and news accounts by News21, an investigative reporting program headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, found only 10 cases of voter impersonation fraud nationwide from 2000 to 2012. These 10 cases accounted for only 0.5 percent of the 2,068 cases of alleged voter fraud that the group documented. The most prevalent fraud was absentee ballot fraud at 24 percent. In the cases of absentee voter fraud all of the accused were political candidates or campaign workers, not individual voters.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “ Statistically, an individual is more likely to
be killed by lightning than to commit in-person voter fraud.” To quote our friends at the WV Center on Budget and Policy, HB 4013 is a “solution looking for a problem.”
Please contact your delegates and ask them to vote “No” on this unnecessary and restrictive voter ID law.
LEEP Act To Be Considered by Committee Any Day Now
by Emmett Pepper
As you may recall, the LEEP Act (SB 370) is the top priority of EEWV this legislative session. It is a bill that allows local governments to create a funding mechanism for energy efficient upgrades to commercial buildings. The bill has strong, bipartisan support in each house of the legislature, but has not yet been taken up by a committee. We believe that it will be taken up soon, however. The bill was actually on the agenda of a meeting of the Senate Energy, Industry, and Mining (EIM) Committee last Thursday, but the committee meeting had to be canceled due to a scheduling conflict. We are hopeful that it will be added to the agenda this week for the EIM Committee, possibly by Tuesday. Stay tuned!
Senate GOP Stalls Campaign Finance Bill
by: Julie Archer
Thanks to everyone who took time to contact the Senate Judiciary Committee and your legislators about SB 408, a bill that would increase campaign contribution limits. ICYMI, the bill stalled in committee after Senator Mike Woelfel (D-Cabell) successfully offered an amendment (similar to a bill passed by the Senate last year) to the bill to increase disclosure of third-party political spending.
The amendment, which was similar to provisions included in a bill passed overwhelming with bipartisan support during the 2015 legislative session, would require any entity that spends more than $1,000 in a calendar year to disclose its donors to the Secretary of State’s office. The amendment would also close the “covered transfers” loophole, which allows large donors to contribute anonymously to secret money groups.
As Dave Gutman with the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported, two Republicans, Senator Bob Ashley (R-Roane) and Senator Ed Gaunch (R-Kanawha) voted with Democrats on the committee to add the disclosure provisions to the bill. Please thank these Senators for supporting our right to know who is influencing our elections. Send an email to them by copying the list below and pasting into your email ‘To’ field:
Increased disclosure will allow us to “follow the money” so we know who is supporting the candidates running for office and paying for those nasty TV ads. Unfortunately, most of the Republicans on the committee opposed, as Senator Woelfel put it “shedding some light on who’s spending this money.” After the disclosure provisions were adopted the bill was tabled. While it remains to be seen when or if the bill will be reconsidered and if so whether the disclosure provisions will be included in the bill, they may well be the “poison pill” that keeps SB 408 from passing. (Click here to hear/watch Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump (D-Morgan) and Senator Mike Romano (D-Harrison discuss the bill.)
We’ll continue to keep you posted. In the meantime, we’ll be working to see if we can get some traction on disclosure in the House. On Friday, HB 4527 was introduced by Delegates Tim Manchin (D-Marion), Stephen Skinner (D-Jefferson), Mike Caputo (D-Marion), Linda Longstreth (D-Marion), Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio), and Dana Lynch (D-Upshur). Like the disclosure amendment to SB 408, HB 4527 would require any group that spends more than $1,000 to influence our elections to say where the money came from. The bill would also close the “covered transfers” loophole that allows so-called “social welfare” groups to serve as money conduits to Super PACs.
Full disclosure of campaign cash is an important step to ensuring our state remains in the power of the people. Please contact House Judiciary Committee members andyour delegates and urge them to support HB 4527. Tell them, secret money has no place in West Virginia. As West Virginians we stand up for what we believe in. It’s time we made the millionaires and corporations writing six-figure checks to influence our elections to do the same. We shouldn’t allow this lowly form of campaign cowardice to continue.
Take action for a state EITC!
by: Ciera Pennington
With the hard work of Seth DiStefano at the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, we’ve been able to stress the importance of a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to lawmakers, and they’re beginning to listen and consider the possibility. While interest is growing, we still need some bi-partisan sponsors to take the lead. That’s where YOU come in! Here are a few actions you can take (if you haven’t already!) to help show legislators their constituents want to see a state EITC enacted to help our hard-working families:
- The West Virginia House Finance Committee faces tough decisions on how to balance West Virginia’s budget this year. Ask House Finance Committee members to please remember our working families who are already paying more than their fair share by creating a state EITC.
- Check out investinwvfamilies.org and download fact sheets/info-graphics (like the statewide profile below, but specific to your district!) to share with your Delegates and Senators via social media, email, constituent meetings, etc.
- Follow WV EITC on Facebook and Twitter; then, share posts and/or retweet to help spread the word!
- Finally, submit a Letter-to-the-Editor to your local newspaper! If you’re interested, we already have LTE’s written up and contact info for all of the newspapers across the state. Email firstname.lastname@example.org your name and address; she’ll send you an LTE you can edit or send as is and the email addresses for your local newspapers.
As always, thank you for your citizen action and helping us make West Virginia a better place for all!
If you enjoyed this update, please forward it to a friend, post on Facebook, and/or tweet it out with #CapitalEye!