This Week in our Capitol Eye Legislative Update, it’s Crossover Chaos!
As mentioned last week, Wednesday the 29th was crossover day so the legislature worked through last weekend, started early mornings, and met late into the evenings to get as many of their must pass bills over to the other side. One notable ‘hail-Mary’ passage of a bill was SB 386, the Medical Cannabis bill that was taken up in the final Judiciary meeting and passed out of the Senate during the last floor session (more on that below).
Other notables that made the cut were SB 409 – a terrible tax bill that they passed just to have a “vehicle” still alive to deal with revenue adjustments. It’s a long and convoluted attempt to ‘broaden the tax base’ i.e. make you and I pay more, and those at the top pay less. A few of its notable features are a 50% reduction in coal severance taxes and a 3.5% sales tax on food – see what I mean?
SB 687 the “Dirty Water Coal Bill” also passed over to the House. It will weaken the water quality standards that coal mining has to comply with. However, our lawmakers concern for Motorcyclists was renewed with the failure of SB 549, the law to allow bikers to ride without a helmet. It will be back next year as it has been ever since the helmet law was passed.
Paycheck Deception Advances
SB 239 is called the ‘paycheck protection’ bill by its supporters and the ‘paycheck deception’ bill by organized labor which is the intended target of this legislation. It forces more paperwork in between union members and their locals by making them re-sign every year the official government forms to have union dues deducted from their paychecks. I testified against this needless intrusion at the public hearing on Thursday.
One of the only two speakers in support of the bill was the state director of the Koch brothers mouthpiece, Americans For Prosperity (theirs – not ours), who solemnly informed the House members present that “this was a roll-call vote” for them – i.e. that the Dark Money billionaires that invested in many of their campaigns wanted this bill weakening unions to pass and they would be informed of how members voted.
Usually this kind of overt threat is done on a one-to-one basis behind closed doors. It was remarkable to hear it spoken aloud in a public hearing! It appears that the Dark Money minions may get their way as Paycheck Deception is up for a House passage vote on Monday. Calls to your Delegates on this one should be made before 11 AM.
Protect WV – Governor Agrees
Friday was Protect WV Day at the capitol. ProtectWV.org is the campaign lead by the WV Center on Budget & Policy (with allies like WV CAG and lots of others) to advocate for increased revenue as the main solution to our state’s budget crisis. Legislative leadership is reluctant to go with the governor’s proposals on new revenue and is instead proposing draconian cuts to Medicaid, Schools and Higher Education to the tune of 50 millions for each. Highlights of this Day included a Billion Dollar Budget Bake Sale upstairs by participating groups and a press conference including students from one of the local schools and a surprise appearance from Governor Justice to pitch his revenue proposals– and get a group hug from the kids.
Medical Cannabis Caucus
As mentioned earlier, SB 386, the Medical Cannabis Bill made it past the Crossover Day hurdle by passing in the Senate by a whopping 28 to 6 margin in the very last floor session before the cutoff. What happened when it was reported to the House made legislative history. A motion “to bring the bill up for immediate consideration” was made by Delegate Folk, R-Berkeley, and hotly debated for over an hour before being passed 54 to 40. This obscure procedural motion essentially by-passed the normal committee process and was a total rebuke of the House Speaker and his leadership team. In my 20 years of lobbying at the legislature I have never seen this happen.
Speaker Armstead has never ever let a Medical Cannabis bill come up for consideration in a committee and has vowed to kill it. Now he’s facing a revolt over this issue. Expect more fireworks when this bill comes up for amendment stage on Monday’s House floor session. Opponents will try to pass multiple amendments to keep it mired in the legislative process so it fails.
Send a message to your Delegates to ‘pass as is with no amendments’. The bill sets up a commission with the task of writing the rules for implementation of the new law and those rules will have to be approved by the next legislature in 2018 before the law goes into effect, so they will still have plenty of oversight moving forward if they pass it now.
SNAP vs Hunger Games
SB 60 is one of the ‘cookie cutter’ bills promoted by conservative think tanks to punish jobless and low-income folks for being poor. We’re covered it in previous updates but it continues to slog through the system and unless we can get it stalled or killed, may pass.
A new article in the Nation outlines how a strikingly similar bill, promoted by the same Koch-linked “Foundation for Government Accountability” is up for passage in Mississippi. These bills will institute new onerous restrictions on SNAP (food stamps) and hire for-profit companies to decide who qualifies for SNAP and other benefits and who gets cut off. As the bible tells it, when Jesus distributed the loaves and fishes, there was no confusing paperwork, no ‘asset tests’ or ‘three month work requirements’. The SNAP bill may come up in House Judiciary as soon as the Monday morning public hearing is over so make calls now to leave a message for your Delegate to vote no on SB 60.
Even though several of the worst anti-consumer bills were toned down, there is still a bad one moving. There is just no-way to make lemonade out of this one – it should pucker up and die. SB216 is another perennial bill to allow dealers to sell used cars on an ‘As Is’ basis without warranty at all. Many low-income families can’t afford a new car but need reliable transportation to work. This bill would allow dealers to sell a car with the only guarantee being that it will make it off the sales lot. It’s now in House Judiciary so call members and tell them to keep our Lemon Laws in place and vote no on SB 216.
War on Water – Veto Cancer Creek!
Governor Justice now has on his desk the Cancer Creek bill. Click here to send him a message asking him to veto it or even better, call his office at 304.558.2000 to better get his attention. The War on Water continues at the legislature with SB 687 the Dirty Water Coal Bill (see Rivers Fact Sheet here) Keep those calls coming in!
Public Hearing Trifecta
Monday morning the House has scheduled not one, not two but three public hearings on bills we oppose. They are, SB687 – the Dirty Water Coal Bill at 8AM ; Forced Pooling SB576 at 9AM; and SNAP bill SB 60 at 10 AM. See Julie’s article on Forced Pooling of Oil & Gas leases below. Remember, you legislative junkies can watch or listen to these hearings (as well as major committee meetings and floor sessions) are streamed live at http://www.wvlegislature.gov/live.cfm. Also, daily updates can be watched on public TV’s Legislature Today, at least until their funding is cut so much that it’s no longer affordable.
Funding: This Alert Needs You!
Speaking of funding reminds me that I always end my part of this Legislative Update by making a shameless plea for your support for the fight at the legislature. If you’ve read this update down to this point then you must be interested in what we have to say and hopefully have already taken several of the suggested citizen actions to help keep your lawmakers accountable.
How about clicking on the Donate Button now to become a supporting member? It only takes a few minutes and your support is what keeps these updates coming out and our staff up at the capitol fighting for a state government for the citizens, not the corporation’s profits! Thanks in advance for all of you that step up and join in!
Public Hearing Monday on Forced Pooling Bill
Earlier in the session we told you about some bad bills that aid drillers at the expense of West Virginia landowners — bills that were either soundly defeated or stalled at different points in the legislative process in 2016 — that were reemerging this session. One of these bills, the re-branded forced pooling bill, now known as cotenancy and joint development, passed the Senate Wednesday, on a 19 to 14 vote.
The House Energy Committee will hold a public hearing on the forced pooling bill (SB 576) Monday, April 3 from 9AM to 10AM in the House Chamber. Anyone who would like to travel to Charleston to speak out against the bill will have the opportunity to do so. However, considering the high level of interest in the bill and the limited amount of time, speakers will likely have only a minute or two to make their comments.
If you plan to make the trip:
Arrive early to sign up.
Prepare your remarks ahead of time and keep them brief. If you have more to say than you can share in a minute or two, you can submit additional written comments to the committee.
If you can’t make it to Charleston, please make some calls and send some emails to House Energy Committee members and your Delegate(s).
Click here for a list of committee members with their phone number and email address, followed by a ‘list’ of emails for all members that can easily be copied and pasted into the ‘To’ field of your email.
You can also take action via http://protectwvpropertyrights.com/.
For your convenience we’ve outlined our problems with the current version of the bill below. We have a number of posts about and background about the bill at www.wvsoro.org.
Problems with Forced Pooling (Cotenancy and Joint Development) Bill (SB 576)
SB 567 contains two parts: “cotenancy,” which we have dubbed “majority rules,” and “joint development”/“lease integration” or what we call “invisible ink.” Below we have outlined our problems with the different parts of the bill.
COTENANCY (Aka: Majority Rules)
Surface only owners:
– We appreciate that a surface use agreement generally is required, HOWEVER, SB 576 contains a loophole that would allow a driller with an existing surface use agreement or other valid contract that pre-dates horizontal drilling to be used to locate well pads for horizontal drilling on a surface owner’s land.
– Also, the current version of the bill does not include provisions in earlier drafts that the royalties and ownership of missing and unknown owners go to the surface owner pursuant to the existing missing and unknown heir leasing statute. These need to be included or surface owner rights are taken away.
Surface owners who own minerals:
– We appreciate that the revised bill requires that non-consenting cotenants be paid the highest royalty in leases signed by the consenting owners. This is an improvement over the earlier bill. However, a knowledgeable mineral owner still might be able to negotiate a better deal than his or her cousins, (or limit the lease to certain formations, or limit the size of the units or the land held by production) and the bill lacks due process (right to appeal, etc.) for non-consenting owners.
JOINT DEVELOPMENT (Aka: Invisible Ink)
Surface only owners:
– SB 576 still allows the driller to put well pads and roads etc. on the surface owner’s land! It is appreciated that the common law rights are preserved. And $100,000 might sound like a lot, but it is only 4/100ths of 1% of the value of the gas that will be produced. And the land may have been in a family for generations or something purchased for happiness or into which tremendous energy has been invested that money cannot replace.
Surface owners who own minerals:
– SB 576 is in violation of constitutional prohibitions on altering private contracts, and in violation of the common law of interpreting contracts against the person who wrote them. The bill only modernizes old leases for what the driller wants, a pooling provision, but it does not modernize royalty amounts or give new signing bonuses.