Legislative Forecast: Week Five

This week’s forecast is primarily a news round up from various media outlets, partners, and allies on the bills we’ve been following, along with actions you can take where relevant.

Courts/Access to Justice

From Lida Shepherd with the American Friends Service Committee: 

HB 2257, a terrible extended supervision bill is moving in the House. We need your help to stop it!  HB 2257 would require an additional 10 years of extended supervision for people convicted of drug felonies involving fentanyl, after they complete their underlying sentence including any period of parole. 

HB 2257 will move West Virginia in the wrong direction, and give us more of the horrific policy failures of the war on drugs (which is really a war on people).  CLICK HERE to send a letter to your delegate(s) to ask them to vote NO.  Thank you for taking action!

There’s also some GOOD NEWS too: HB 4522 which will provide for automatic expungement for non-convictions passed the House on Thursday.  HOORAY!

Lastly, please remember to mark your calendar for February 22nd Smart Justice Advocacy Day

Racial Justice and Non-Discrimination

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on HB 4011, the so-called “curriculum transparency” bill. As the Charleston Gazette-Mail and WV MetroNews reported, the overwhelming majority of speakers, including myself on behalf of WV CAG, opposed the bill. The public hearing and an earlier press conference on this and other classroom censorship bills were followed by several editorials from newspapers around the state, including the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, the Dominion Post, the Beckley Register-Herald, the Elkins Inter-Mountain, and the Wheeling Intelligencer, critical of the bill. This bill to whitewash the teaching of history and prohibit important discussions about racism, sexism and other forms forms of discrimination, is being considered at a time when teacher vacancies are at an all time high. This and other politically motivated attacks on public education will only continue to drive teachers away from the field. Keep the pressure on to keep this bill off the Committee’s agenda. 

Reproductive Justice/Bodily Autonomy

Later in the day, the House Judiciary Committee took up and sent to the full House the bill that would ban abortions after 15 weeks (HB 4004). The committee also passed another bill (HB 4005) that would ban the sale of fetal tissue, which is already illegal, as a means to spread misinformation and stigmatize abortion. Take action here to tell your delegate(s) to vote NO on these bills that will leave West Virginians without essential reproductive health care. 

Voting Rights & Democracy

Last week we told you about SB 488, which would restore the voting rights of formerly incarcerated individuals and allow people on community supervision –  probation or parole – to register and vote. In 2021, there were 10,326 West Virginians who were unable to become voters because they were on parole or probation, according to the ACLU of WV. Tell legislators it’s time to end voter disenfranchisement.  

Meanwhile, the fight to pass federal voting rights legislation continues. Join us for this upcoming virtual event hosted by the WV Faith Table: 

Friday Action Hour for Voting Rights and Democracy 

On Friday, February 18, 11AM – 12 noon, the WV Faith Table (Faithful Democracy), in partnership with UU (Unitarian Universalist) Justice of North Carolina will host a special WV Collaboration for UU Friday Action Hour in honor of John Lewis’ birthday on February 21st. 

Join us Friday at 11 AM via Zoom to take action in support of voting rights and democracy.  

Water Quality 

The DEP rules bundle (SB 279) which includes the rule making revisions to the state’s water quality standards is now on its way to the Governor’s desk. Industry lobbyists are also at it again trying to exempt oil and gas tanks from the Aboveground Storage Tank Act passed to prevent another water crisis like the one caused by the 2014 Freedom Industries chemical leak. The House Energy and Manufacturing Committee took up and advanced HB 2598 on Tuesday, bypassing the House Health Committee and sending the bill directly to the floor. Read more on both bills from the WV Rivers Coalition and the Charleston-Gazette Mail herehere and here.

Instead of rolling back inspection requirements for tanks containing harmful pollutants, the Legislature should focus on addressing the current funding and staffing crisis in the DEP Office of Oil and Gas to make sure there is an adequate number of inspectors to protect our water. Take action here to urge legislators to support solutions to the crisis. 

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