Week 7: Too Much Freedom?

Citizen Action Group Legislative Update
Mar 2, 2015 View / Comment Online Donate

Too Much Freedom?

by Gary Zuckett

“Freedom’s just another word, for, nothin’ left to lose,” Janis Joplin – 1969

Freedom Industries kicked off the first full day of the previous legislative session when their unregulated, maintenance-free tanks poisoned our water with MCHM. In between, the 2014 elections were a free-for-all of dark money spending to flip our state legislature (and Congressional delegation). Now our new radical-right legislative leadership is shoving all kinds of new “Freedoms” at us. Are these the kinds of “Freedoms” we want? Freedom for legal gun owners (18 yrs and up) to carry concealed weapons without a permit? (Or safety training?) SB347 – Passed Senate now in House Judiciary Freedom for Coal operators to endanger miners, dump forty times more aluminum in our streams and rivers, and be free from Clean Water Act suits by pesky enviros? SB357 goes back to Senate after House amendments. Freedom for corporations to give money directly to campaigns of lawmakers and judges with maybe a $50,000 (still to be negotiated) limit per election? SB 541 in Judiciary Freedom for lawmakers to nullify local city and town anti-discrimination ordinances?  HB2881 tabled for now but just passed in Arkansas (did Louisiana pass it, too?). Freedom for out-of-state contractors to import low-wage workers to repair and build state projects? SB 361 Prevailing Wage roll-back – Passed House and back to Senate Freedom for electric utilities to suppress Net Metering of Solar & Wind through increased fees? HB 2201 legislature just overrode governor’s veto. Freedom for Charter Schools to drain resources from local public schools without hiring certified teachers or meeting academic standards?  SB 14 on Third Reading in Senate Freedom for workers to enjoy government-mandated union representation and benefits without having to pay for it? SB 337 Workplace Freedom Act (‘Right to Work’ for less) in Senate Judiciary but not moving yet. Freedom for Oil and Gas drillers to force reluctant mineral owners to “pool” their land and drill for minerals? HB 2688 and several others Freedom for (mostly) male lawmakers to make reproductive medical decisions for all WV women? (too many bills here to list – see www.wvfree.org for details)

I don’t know how much more Freedom we can stand!

Crossover Day

Both Senate and House are frantically passing bills to keep them alive past the dreaded “Crossover Day” on Wed the 4th. Any bill not passed out of it house of origin by then is supposedly dead. That being said, leadership has various ways to resurrect bills to keep them going. These zombie bills can return through being amended into other ones which are still alive and other dark methods. Thankfully most will stay dead. Our watch list will be much shorter by the end of the week.

No First Friday

WV-CAG will not have its usual First Friday gathering at the office on the 6th. Instead, we’re encouraging folks to attend the “Pass the Baton” event at the Woman’s Club (5-7) to honor Perry Bryant, former CAG staffer, who is retiring as Director of WV for Affordable Health Care. Terri Giles, a former Rockefeller staffer and Dreama Dems leader will be taking the helm and will be there to meet folks too.

Citizen/Labor Rally on Saturday

If you’ve been wanting to come to Charleston to do some citizen lobbying, this Saturday will be a great time to be here since labor is holding a big rally at noon on the front steps of the capitol. Several international union presidents will be coming in to address the crowd. Lawmakers intend to work through the weekend so will be available Saturday to track down and lobby. Let us know if you’re coming down and we’ll look out for you up there.

If You Can’t Make it to the Capitol

You can drop a check in the mail anytime to 1500 Dixie Street, Charleston, 25311 to support your lobby team that had to work through the weekend and will be working straight through until midnight on the 14th when all this craziness is over for this session. On line memberships and donations can be made at https://wvcag.org/membership.htm – thanks to all who support Citizen Action!


WV: No Place for Hate

by Karan Ireland

In a move so brazenly backward that it attracted national media attention, the House Government Organization Committee passed a bill Wednesday that would have rolled back nondiscrimination ordinances in cities and towns across West Virginia. The absurdly titledWest Virginia Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act (HB 2881) would have removed existing protections for the LGBT community in Buckhannon, Charleston, Harpers Ferry, Huntington, Morgantown, and tiny Thurmond, WV. The proposed legislation would have also made it illegal for any municipality to enact new nondiscrimination legislation.

Citizens from all over West Virginia gathered Friday at the Capitol to express their outrage over the mean-spirited bill. Out of 60 speakers, 56 stood to oppose the bill, citing the dangerous moral and economic implications of codifying discrimination. Mayors and members of city councils who had already passed nondiscrimination ordinances spoke out against the bill for undermining the power of local governments. The hearing was a bright spot in what has been a gloomy legislative session. Click here to watch it in its entirety.

For once this Session, the outpouring of opposition at a public hearing worked to kill a bad bill! Approached by reporters, Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R- Jackson) indicated that the Senate would not consider the bill should it pass out of the House. LaterFriday afternoon, every member of the House Gov Org committee voted to indefinitely postpone HB 2881.

It should be noted that if lead sponsor Delegate Lynne Arvon is, indeed, looking for uniformity in the law as it pertains to protected classes in West Virginia, she could have thrown her support behind HB 2534 which would have moved our state forward as a whole. Rather, she and her compatriots (Rowan, Kessinger, Ambler, Anderson, Arvon, Azinger, Border, Cadle, Canterbury, Cooper, Duke, Evans, A., Evans, D., Folk, Frich, Hamilton, Hanshaw, Householder, Howell, Kelly, Miller, O’Neal, Overington, Romine, Shott, Sobonya, Statler, Walters) sought to define and limit marriage in the United States Constitution via a House Concurrent Resolution. Though virtually meaningless, this just proves that it’s often two steps forward and one step back on the march towards justice.


More Money in Elections = Transparency & Accountability?

by Julie Archer

In recent years, West Virginia has been a leader in terms of campaign finance, and with regard to disclosure of political spending in particular. For example, when the state was faced with the events that led to the famous Caperton v. Massey case, the legislature responded by enacting new disclosure requirements. The state has also responded pro-actively to subsequent court rulings to ensure that we have robust disclosure requirements in the state.  We’ve also adopted public financing, so candidates for our Supreme Court have an alternative to taking contributions from lawyers and other parties that may come before the court.

Given the state’s record of accomplishment in this area, it’s outrageous that the legislature is now considering significantly increasing contributions limits and repealing our long-standing prohibition on corporate contributions under the guise of increasing transparency and accountability in elections.

Yes – you read that right.  The sponsors of SB 541, Senators Mitch Carmichael(R Jackson) and Daniel Hall (R-Wyoming), claim the objective of the bill is to increase transparency and accountability in elections.  They argue that by raising the caps on contributions limits and allowing corporate contributions we will be in a better position to counter outside spending and put candidates back in control of campaign messages.

There is no evidence to support this twisted logic, which suggests that “If we had larger campaign limits, maybe some of that money finding its way to shadow campaigns would find its way to a candidate,” according Sen. Mike Hall (R-Putnam), and completely ignores the compelling interest in preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption that is advanced by keeping contributions low.

To whom will these candidates be accountable?  Voters or big donors who are able to give the maximum under the new proposed contribution limits (which would start at $2,600 for county and local offices and go up to $25,000 for candidates running for state wide office)?

No one can deny the negative impact that independent spending has had our elections.  Outside spending has skyrocketed in the wake of the Citizens United decision, which held that such spending cannot corrupt and therefore cannot be limited.  Although we can’t limit spending by third parties, there is no constitutional bar or prohibition on requiring these entities to disclose – yet there are no provisions in the bill that would improve disclosure of outside spending.

Although the bill would strengthen campaign finance law in some ways, these provisions do not balance the harm that would be done by allowing more money into our elections.  If the intent of the SB 541 is to improve transparency and accountability in elections, the Republican sponsors should support strengthen our existing disclosure laws to ensure that all political spending is being disclosed. During the interims last year, a Joint Judiciary Subcommittee heard recommendations from the Brennan Center for Justice on how we can improve our disclosure laws, and these recommendations would be a good place to start.

Full disclosure furthers several democratic interests. First, there’s the anti-corruption interest, which is also advanced by having strict limits on direct contributions to candidates. There’s the voter informational interest – in terms of letting voters know who is trying to influence their votes.  There’s the anti-circumvention interest, which helps ensure the enforcement of other campaign finance laws.

Finally, there is the due process interest needed to protect the due process rights of litigants before elected judges.  The idea that this is potentially going to allow more money, including corporate contributions to flow into our judicial races is particularly concerning, and we think counter to the goals of both the public financing program and the bill passed earlier this session that will make judicial races non-partisan.

Full disclosure protects our elections, the legislative process afterward, and the impartiality of our courts.

There’s already too much money in politics. Please contact Senate Judiciary Committee members and your legislators and tell them to opposed SB 541.  Tell them that you want real accountability and transparency in elections, not more money.


Bill that would hurt the solar industry is on Governor Tomblin’s desk

Governor Tomblin has already given HB 2201 a technical veto, but the House and Senate have given it back to him. As it is written, the legislation unnecessarily duplicates the existing authority of the West Virginia Public Service Commission to implement net metering, a policy that is critical in ensure the continued growth of solar jobs in the state. The bill threatens the investment of currently solar owners, as well as the future of solar jobs in WV. Citizens are urging Governor Tomblin to give HB 2201 a full veto this time, not just a technical one. Click here to tell Governor Tomblin to veto HB 2201


Recycling bill moves to the Senate floor

by Emmett Pepper

CAG and the West Virginia Sustainable Business Council (SBC) have been working to get a bill passed that allows for competition in recycling. Current law provides for what is essentially a regulated monopoly. The bill provides a way to let businesses and families band to haul recycling by forming a cooperative together, as well as allowing for other types of agricultural cooperatives. After weeks of working with the Natural Resources Committee, including a subcommittee formed especially for the bill, the Judiciary Committee, and many players within the waste industry, the bill is going to the floor of the Senate. While this bill is not the bill that CAG or SBC would have come up with if we had our “druthers ,“ it is a compromise that gives people with poor recycling options, while taking into account the interests of the recycling businesses already operating in the state. The bill is going in the right direction right now, but it needs to keep moving. The next step is for it to get out of the Senate. We could use your help. Please contact Senate President Bill Cole, as well as your Senators, and ask them to vote for SB352. Senator Cole can be reached at (304) 357-7801 or bill.cole@wvsenate.gov. You can look them up here: http://openstates.org/.


The Barrage of Bills against Women’s Reproductive Rights Continues

by Jessica Steinrueck

There is no shortage of news this week on womens reproductive rights being diminished in West Virginia. We have had our eye on a number of bad bills, and are planning to see everyone this coming Thursday, March 5th at the Capitol for the annual Lobby Day for Women’s Lives. The 20 week abortion ban (HB 2568) passed without exceptions for rape or incest earlier this week. “It’s a sad day for the state of West Virginia. The Legislature has exhibited politics at its worst. They did not listen to the health-care professionals or the massive public outcry against this legislation.” says WV FREE Executive Director,Margaret Chapman Pomponio.

ACLU of West Virginia issued a cry as well, asking for a veto:“Similar legislation was tabled in Congress because GOP Representatives in the House were appalled at the lack of protections for women. House Bill 2568 is the West Virginia version of that bill and as such, is equally radical and unfair to women. We need solutions that improve a woman’s ability to make the best reproductive health decisions for her circumstances. One-size-fits-all legislation is dangerous to women, their families and their providers. Ask Governor Tomblin to veto this unconstitutional bill. It’s because of YOU and your unrelenting efforts to stand up for West Virginia women that Governor Tomblin made his bold and compassionate decision to veto last year’s 20-week ban efforts. We need your voice again.

The 20 week abortion ban is not the only bill I am worried about. HB 2440 passed the House Health Committee earlier this week, and was sent to the House Judiciary Committee where it has not yet been taken up. This bill is the House version of SB 236 which I wrote about in last weeks update. HB 2440 would ban health insurance coverage of elective abortions, which is almost all abortions. Please call Chairman Shott (304-340-3252) and urge him to not but this bill on the agenda. Two more bills were on the House Health Committee agenda which fortunately didn’t make it out. HB 2715 would make it illegal to transport a minor across state lines to get an abortion without written consent of both parents. HB 2468 would prohibit state-funded transportation for abortion acts. This onslaught of bills prompted WVFree, who is working tirelessly to protect women’s reproductive rights, to state: “This is an UNPRECEDENTED attack on women’s reproductive rights in West Virginia. In our state’s history of existence, there has NEVER been an attack of this size on access to safe abortion care.” Lobby Day for Women’s Lives is coming up Thursday March 5th, and this year it is especially important to have a big turn out! This is an all day event starting at 8am, and if transportation is an issue WVFree is offering busses from Morgantown and Huntington. I hope to see you there!


Five days to life West Virginia truancy laws

One in three public school students in West Virginia is considered a truant. This is because In 2010, the law was changed reducing the number of unexcused absences from 10 per year to 5 before a child is considered a truant. Since that change truancy now accounts for 40% of all juvenile to court cases. A number of these children are removed from their homes and placed in group homes, which has been shown not to have a positive effect on on a child’s education and socialization. On top of this, children who have been placed in a group home are more than twice as likely to commit a crime as those who are not. Because of the unarguable negative impacts of the 2010 law the legislature are considering a bill (H.B. 2550) to increase the number of unexcused absences back to ten. The bill is still on the House side but if all goes well should move over to the Senate on Wednesday.


Update on Tank Bill

by Karan Ireland

We continue to track several bills related to water quality in West Virginia. The most notable of those, because of our experience last year, is SB 423. A committee substitute was drafted after many hours of stakeholder meetings which included members of WV-CAG, SORO, the WV Rivers Coalition, the WV Sustainable Business Council, WVEC, WVONGA, IOGA, the WV Coal Association, WV Manufacturers’ Association, and DEP. It passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee early in the week and passed the Senate Saturday afternoon. The only “nay” vote was Senator Chris Walters (R-Putnam).

Though WV-CAG and SORO were present for most of the “negotiations” around the comm sub, we do not support the bill in its current incarnation. It’s accurate to say that it is an improvement over the introduced version of the bill, which would have resulted in toothless regulation, but we stand by our position that there should be no weakening of water protections passed last year.

One of our primary concerns with this committee substitute is the ability for tank owners regulated under another section of the code to “opt out” of the Act by applying to modify existing permits. The application must include information about adherence to tank and secondary containment integrity, inspection, and spill prevention and response. Approval of the permit mod application would be at the discretion of the Secretary. Without clear standards, and allowing for full discretion is something that concerns the environmental community. Aside from which tanks are in and which tanks are out of the ASTA, there are numerous other rollbacks in CS for SB 423 which alarm us. We are working on a list of those and will have them to you soon so that you can call your Delegates as the bill makes its way through the House.

Events this Week

  • Lobby Day for Women’s Lives! Thursday March 5th, 2015 8 am – 4 pm WV State Capitol more info at https://www.facebook.com/events/948716951805304
  • Get Your GREEN Update Too We work very closely with our friends at the WV Environmental Council and want to make sure that our members are also getting the GREEN Update every week since they do such an excellent job of covering the attacks on clean water, air and more. Click on the link and subscribe if you’re not already getting this info!

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