Each week keeps getting wilder at the 2019 legislature. Last week was no exception. Wednesday was “Crossover Day”, when all bills needed to be passed out of their “house of origin.” It was a week of highs and lows, but mostly lows. Read on to see what mischief, mayhem and madness transpired.
Flash news! Easter and Christmas are now the only two days of the year you cannot buy hard liquor since the governor just signed completed legislation to allow Sunday retail sales of the hard stuff. Made “effective from passage,” Sunday booze sales began yesterday. This may come in handy as we celebrate the end of the 2019 session on midnight, Saturday March 9th!
Also, don’t forget to feed your lobby team, we run on your member renewals and subscriptions either on line wvcag.org, or in the mail to 1500 Dixie St, Chas, WV 25311. Thanks in advance!
Islamophobia Displayed at “GOP Day” Causes Outrage
A woman handing out hate literature against Muslims was set up Friday with a display table right in the middle of the “Make America Great Again” signs at the Republican day event outside the House. Brenda Aurthur, claiming to be leader of the Charleston chapter of Act for America, distributed booklets entitled “Readin’, Writein’, & Jihadin’” outlining how Islam was invading our schools, and Sharia laws were about to be passed by a newly elected Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar. These and others were being offered to the public below a poster equating 9/11 and the Representative. See this poster by scrolling through the slide show of pics in this Gazette article written that day.
Fallout of Friday’s confrontation and House floor discussion (video here – scroll down) again gave WV a black eye on national news that night, only a few weeks after the homophobic tirades of a House member gave us another negative national news hit. Remarks to several members by the House Sergeant at Arms, that “All Muslims are terrorists”, led to her resignation and an unusual address to the whole body by the House Speaker. Republicans stepped in it yet again – sad, so sad, and bad for the WV Legislature.
Crossover Double Cross
Wednesday was a day of drama and long hours. I left the capitol after 11PM just after the House spent all evening debating and passing HB 2519 allowing permitted 18 year olds to carry their concealed weapons on campus, in dorms, and (with a few exceptions) in the classroom and school athletic and social events. Republican Judiciary Chairman John Shott, spent hours defending (mostly from his own party) over a dozen proposed amendments designed to mitigate some of the damage this bill would do to higher education. Ironically, most of his amendments would have put the bill more in line with the law in Texas, including restricting it to student’s 21 and over! All but one, a requirement that our universities send reports on the effects of allowing guns on campus, failed.
First off that day, the campus carry bill was moved off the active calendar to the delight of opponents. The Rules Committee has the power to set the calendar for each floor session, deciding which bills are taken up. In a meeting right before the morning floor session, Rules jerked it off the calendar and left everyone wondering what was up. Later in the day as they met ahead of the afternoon floor session, another controversial bill we’ve been opposing, the Medicaid work requirements, was taken off by Rules and campus carry put back onto the agenda – leading to speculation that there was some kind of swap worked out “giving up” a terrible Medicaid work requirement bill (that had been pushed through two committees with lots of momentum) for one that endangers college students and faculty. What a Sophie’s choice!
One more ironic situation should be mentioned. Just hours before the late night House passage of campus guns, allowing even 18 year olds to pack heat in their backpacks, the Senate sent a bill to the House increasing the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21! What’s wrong with this picture?!
Students will rally at the Capitol on Monday and Wednesday, we’ve been told, as the Senate now must consider what to do with this loaded bill. Their Judiciary Committee may take it up as soon as their Monday afternoon meeting so call your Senators right away.
Medicaid for Moms Passes Senate
SB 564, expanding Medicaid health care coverage to up to 800 moms to be and their newborns, made the crossover and has already passed out of House HHR on Saturday. It now has but one committee left – House Finance. Thanks to everyone who made calls on this one!
Medical Cannabis Moving Too
Both the “banking bill” and the “improvements” to the medical cannabis law have been passed over to the Senate and are awaiting action there. HB 2079 passed on an 88-11 vote and now is in Senate Judiciary. HB 2538, the medical cannabis program banking bill, has already been approved by Judiciary and is on second reading Monday, which means a Senate passage vote by mid-week. This looks like the year we may finally give patients the freedom to choose cannabis for their ailments!
Pay Raise or Not?
Budget negotiations between the two houses will commence soon now that each has begun moving its version of the Governor’s draft. Teachers, school personnel, state workers and police are up for a raise but the bill to raise teachers is stuck in Senate Education Committee, the very same one that rammed through the “Ominous Education Reform” that crashed and burned in the House. Chairwoman Rucker, who homeschools her kids and is also state ALEC Chair, is “uncertain” of its fate. Call her to request a “clean” pay raise bill that our teachers were promised and deserve.
Another Kiss for Coal
Another budget factor is there is a bill likely to pass to give coal a $60 million tax break on “steam coal” used in power plants. Advocates whined that HB 3142 would help save coal jobs. To make their point, two of the three galleries in the House were filled with suited up coal miners who said they were from Murray Energy Co., bussed down and likely paid a full day’s wages. Alas, even the Koch Brothers paid-for WVU economist has stated that the total elimination of the severance tax would not bring back coal. It’s sad to again see miners used as pawns for the coal bosses’ profits! The bill is now referenced to a single committee (Finance) in the Senate. Passage is virtually certain at this time.
But Nothing for Black Lung
Retired miners suffering with Black Lung were honored at the capitol and then the legislature let several bills designed to aid them expire on Crossover Day. Federal funding for the Black Lung program was recently cut in half. Why is this happening when doctors and researchers are clamoring that there is a new epidemic of this preventable but mostly fatal occupational disease? It’s shameful for our state and nation to let this happen.
Socially Secure Get Tax Breaks Too
Also in the House’s version of their budget bill, the much ballyhooed elimination of state income taxes on all Social Security checks seems, on the surface, to be a good way to give relief to struggling seniors. That is, until one looks at the numbers to see that the low-income retirees already pay no taxes and the vast bulk of the benefits are bestowed upon those in the upper income brackets. This one is sure to pass also just for the optics it presents to voters. WVCBP says that an EITC is a better way to help folks get by.
Criminal Justice Reforms Still Pending
Several measures designed to make our justice system more just are still in play. HB 2190 reforms bail requirements so fewer folks awaiting trial have to sit in jail, miss work or lose employment. SB 152 deals with expungement of felony convictions after a long period of good behavior. SB 236 would require the state to inform ex-felons that our state allows them to register and exercise their right to vote. HB 2083 would issue a valid photo ID to inmates exiting the system. All these are designed to either keep folks out of jail or help them reintegrate when they get out. These are small but important steps in the right direction for a state and nation that incarcerates a larger percentage of its population than any other country.
Civil Justice Too!
The unneeded and too expensive bill to add another layer of appeals courts to our civil justice system in WV is still technically alive and needs your help to finish it off. It’s a ruse by big corporations to make the wheels of justice grind even slower so they can delay or prevent having to pay up.
Lemon Law Gets Squeezed
“As is” used car legislation has been introduced every year but one for the past 30 years – and it has never before passed. This year the bill was slipped around House and Senate Judiciary Committees by adding it to a bill that reduces the frequency of required car inspections. Even that is not a good idea! Tires can go bald and cause wrecks if inspections are now only every other year! SB 543, which is now pending in House Finance Committee, says that you can now be sold a car “as is” by a car dealer. Call committee members now and ask them to vote no on this lemon.
Families depend on reliable transportation to reach their place of employment and provide for their families. Getting scammed into using their hard earned money to purchase an unreliable car is unfair to consumers and places children in a bad situation when their parents can’t get to work and are swindled out of their money because a car dealer doesn’t stand behind their sale of the used car.
Piercing the Veil
The “corporate veil” is a term used to describe the separation of liability between a corporation and its owners. A limited liability corporation (LLC) shields the owners or members of the LLC from personal liability when their business has debts or there is negligence or bad actions that result in the business being sued. Sometimes it is necessary, however, to “pierce the corporate veil” and hold those individuals personally accountable. Two examples where the court may opt to pursue this action is when there is fraud or when evidence shows that the owners purposely put their corporate profit ahead of the safety of employees or customers. However, SB 258 protects all bad actors hiding behind the corporate veil and needs to die in House Judiciary committee or on the floor. Call your Delegates and tell them!
Our Environment Takes it on the Chin
If you’re not signed up to get the WV Environmental Council’s lobby team update (led by WV CAG board member Karan Ireland) then you’re missing out on the “greenest” news. They do a great job of reporting on the numerous affronts to clean water, air and land. As we sent out in our quick Friday action alert, the DEP Rules bill without the water protections needs to just be voted down on the House Floor. This is their link to the action against SB 163.
RIP for Better or Worse
Crossover day was the day of final reckoning – the majority of bills introduced are now heading to the recycling. Some good ones went out with the bad.
Power Purchase Agreements that would have created jobs in the emerging solar power industry were quashed by “big power” who wants to maintain their monopoly and continue to increase your rates.
Expansion of political party ballot qualification to allow minor parties to keep their ballot line by running a candidate for any state-wide office did not make the cut either. It never even made it onto a committee calendar. RIP for this year.
As mentioned, Medicaid work requirements was pulled off the House working calendar and died as it should have. We need to support folks who need jobs with training, childcare, EITC, and other positive incentives, not taking away their healthcare. Sick people make lousy employees.
Literally, hundreds of bills bit the dust this week – way too many to list here. Contact us if one you were rooting for or opposing was not mentioned and we’ll look it up for you!
Lots to do Between now and Saturday
As you can see from this abbreviated list, there is much yet to do at this crazy legislative session. Watch out for possible mid- or late-week actions as things unfold. Your input puts the “public” in public policy and is essential to keep the bad guys at bay. Keep those calls, e-mails and visits to lawmakers coming. Also, keep those member renewals coming in – your support is critical to our efforts! Thanks in advance.