by Lida Shepherd, American Friends Service Committee – WV Economic Justice Project
Greetings and happy Friday!
The 2023 legislative session wrapped up last Saturday, and not a moment too soon. Since then we’ve been adding up the wins and losses and it can be best summarized that we had great victories for healing justice, both advancing proactive policies to reduce the footprint of the criminal legal system, and stopping a bevy of bills that would create or enhance penalties. These victories were in large part thanks to directly impacted people from around the state who lobbied, emailed, called, and testified in committee.
Read below for a rundown of the wins, the ones that got away, plus economic justice wins/losses more broadly. And for you more patient readers, there are some upcoming opportunities at the bottom of this email.
Good bills that passed and are awaiting the Governor’s signature!
SB 633 will require magistrates and judges to set a hearing within 5 days of an arrest on a capias. SB 633 would ensure people don’t sit in jail for weeks or months waiting to have a bond set on a capias. This bill could significantly address the horrific jail overcrowding problem: Capias arrests were the #1 admission to West Virginia jails last year (a number that has grown 150 % in the last decade).
HB 3552 deals with jails per diem by shifting some costs of incarceration to municipalities. Our hope is that this move could incentive local governments to move more towards evidence-based alternatives like quick response teams, as well as enhanced use of civil citations and personal recognizance bonds. With incarceration costs reduced, local tax dollars could be more wisely invested in low barrier housing, substance use treatment, and mental healthcare.
SB 558 prohibits law enforcement agencies from posting booking photos i.e. “mug shots” on social media for most low level offenses.
Bad bills that moved but died (yay)….
HB 2471 reinstating drivers licenses suspensions for unpaid fines and fees
HB 2567 making 2nd offense trespassing a felony with a mandatory 1-5 years of incarceration
SB 49 creating criminal offense for being under influence of controlled substance
SB 547 making simple possession a felony and increasing penalties for possession with intent to deliver
SB 540 creating penalties for urinating or defecating in public
HB 3006 enhancing penalties for copper theft
Scary bad bills that never moved (whew)…
HB 2594 relating to death penalty for first degree murder
HB 2847 imposing a life sentence for people convicted of selling fentanyl
Good bills that died (boo hoo)…
HB 2548 – Requires DCR to issue no-cost, temporary ID within a week of release; valid at the DMV for 180 days from issuance so people have more time after release (passed House but didn’t make it through Senate)
HB 2415 –Ban the Box bill which would eliminate “the box” on state job applications inquiring about a person’s conviction history
HB 2970 – Creating equitable right to expungement (passed house but didn’t make it through Senate)
HB 2793 – Clarifies that in Mental Hygiene proceedings, “No application for involuntary hospitalization may be denied solely due to the incarceration of the individual to be examined.” (passed House Jails and Prisons Committee)
HB 2276 – Issuing identification documents to homeless individuals residing at homeless shelters
HB 2343 – Automating expungement for non-convictions
HB 2981 – Prohibit the sheriff’s department from posting mug shot photos for an arrest
HB 2962 – Second Look Sentencing Act*
HB 3551– Provide for criminal history record restrictions for certain persons (passed House but didn’t make it through Senate)
Also, it’s worth noting that bad bills we’ve fought off the last two years were not introduced or didn’t move, including extended supervision for people with certain drug felony convictions and a draconian rewrite of the criminal code.
On the economic justice front, the good news was the victory defeating three really mean bills that would undermine people’s economic well-being: One would have cut unemployment to 12 weeks and increase hoops people have to jump through. And two bad bills would have cut thousands of people off SNAP and Medicaid through stiffer work and reporting requirements.
One of the biggest gut punches of the session was the passage of a $750 million cut in personal income tax (i.e. hole in the state budget) that will overwhelmingly benefit wealthier West Virginians (see more from WV Center on Budget and Policy). We worry what this huge loss of revenue will mean for needs moving forward, whether that’s pay raises to keep pace with inflation, expanding child care, or adequately funding higher education…the list of unmet needs can (and will) go on and on.
We stood with public employees in the fight against PEIA premium increases but lost that fight. Also the legislature voted to give ARPA money to the WV Department of Economic Development for corporate handouts – but we will continue to stand with allies like NAACP-WV and Tuesday Morning Group in pushing to allocate remaining ARPA funds where they are needed most.
As promised, here are actions, volunteer opportunities and upcoming events:
- *A second look sentencing work group will convene soon, please reply to this email if you’d be interested in helping lay the groundwork for second look sentencing in 2024. The work group will include story gathering and identifying champions in the courts and the legislature (see here for story gathering colleagues in Michigan have done).
- Inside Out Art Exhibit opening soon at the West Edge factory in Huntington
- Stay tuned for engagement opportunities around a likely special session to address staffing shortages in regional jails
- Sign this petition from the WV Poor People’s campaign calling for immediate action to address the deaths and horrific conditions in regional jails (see news coverage from WV Poor People’s campaign event at the State Capitol last Friday).
- Interested in learning how to advocate on the policies and issues you think are important for West Virginia? Registration is open for the Summer Policy Institute happening July 28-30th at Fairmont State University. Apply today! Application deadline is May 1st.
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!