What’s really Happening at the Legislature

Following this bill and that bill all of which do bad stuff for the average citizen makes one step back and look at the big picture.

More than ever this session, laws are being made to benefit corporations and enrich their millionaire and billionaire owners at the expense of regular West Virginians and their families. Income tax bait and switch; consumer protection roll backs; more cancer causing chemicals in our rivers; fewer storage tank inspections near public water intakes; private, for-profit charter & virtual schools everywhere — all these are symptoms of one cause: greed and power moving to maximize profits for campaign donors through well-heeled lobbyists. 

In this present legislative session, where the super-majority basically has the votes to pass whatever it wants, we’re seeing the gloves come off and regular legislative order and deliberations in committees thrown out. Committees are the filters. They’re supposed to be the place where legislation is thoroughly gone over, amended and refined, and either approved or voted down. 

This session we’re hearing that majority party committee members are being told to vote bills out of committee or lose their seat on that committee. They’re being told to vote yes on bills they actually oppose with the caveat that they can then vote no on the floor  (when leadership has the floor votes to pass them regardless). So bills with major defects and terrible policy are moving out of committees and rushed through floor votes. A good example of this was the school voucher bill which, after being passed by the House, had to be recalled from the Senate and sent back to committee because no one had a clue what it would cost in losses to the public school system. This is no way to govern! 

On the Governor’s Desk

So far 21 bills have completed their journey. The Governor signed the charter schools bill (HB 2012) this week. See this article for a list of major bills passed that are awaiting his approval or veto.

On the WV-CAG Director’s Desk 

Our Executive Director’s desk is full of bills, both legislative and financial. Phone, electric, gas, water, and internet makes our office work and enables us to do advocacy work on people centered policies both here and in Washington. Your member donations are what makes all this work possible and we thank everyone who has taken time to renew their membership and also the new members who’ve joined the fight. There is still half a session left to go so you still have time to send one in 🙂

Guns In Dorms? NOT!

Two ‘zombie’ bills (SB 246 and SB 570) lurking in the Senate Judiciary Committee are similar to past years that would allow college students to pack firearms in their backpacks. Last time a coalition of law enforcement and campus security, students, professors and administrators, plus grassroots groups like Moms Demand Action were successful in blocking this terrible idea. You can help this time here. Big thanks to WVU President Gordon Gee for making a public call for these to be defeated. “[A]s our state’s land-grant university, we advance the right of all Mountaineers to learn, teach, work and speak without fear in a safe, secure environment. We urge state lawmakers to reject these pieces of legislation,” said Gee.

Even Big Business Says ‘NO!’ to Governor’s Tax Proposal 

Governor Justice doubled down on his vision of gutting our income tax this week even though it is unpopular with both business and the public. Whatever starts moving may not look anything like SB 600 and HB 2027. However, this is still a very serious ‘hair on fire’ event! Leadership would love to pass something called a tax cut this session and what they do to the governor’s bill could actually make it worse! If you haven’t yet, send your representatives a message to vote NO on bills to reduce or eliminate the personal income tax this session. We shouldn’t do anything that will reduce state revenue during a pandemic! Shifting more taxes onto low and middle income citizens is not fair, and will result in cuts to public services that benefit all families and businesses.

Vouchers on Steroids

HB 2013 Education Saving Account “Hope Scholarship” is really ‘Vouchers on Steroids’. It has the potential to drain more funding from our public schools than any other state with such a program. It starts out small at first but has leeway to grow huge in future years. We’re seeing lots of these kinds of future-loaded bills – watch out for the Income Tax bill to go this route. Vouchers is on First Reading on the Senate floor Monday so will be up for passage Wed.

DHHR Wants to Do WHAT?

We’re hearing that DHHR was behind the resurrection of Zombie SB 387 – TANF Drug Screening Bill. No matter its own trial run in several counties failed miserably and wasted lots of staff time and our tax dollars. It has passed the Senate and is single referenced to the House Health committee. Ask Chairman Pack to not put it on his agenda. 

Harming Harm Reduction

SOAR (Solutions Oriented Addiction Response) WV is the intended target of SB 334. SOAR has been operating a needle exchange in Charleston and distributing Naloxone to local businesses to help save overdose victims. It has come under fire by several city council members for its activities. Bill sponsor Senator Eric Tarr admitted that since he couldn’t get needle exchange programs outlawed, he was going to “tightly regulate” them. His idea of this is to evidently make them totally useless or impossible. This is a terrible bill that goes 180 degrees against proven medical harm reduction procedures.  “We’re pouring gasoline on a fire with this bill right here,” said Senator Ron Stollings who is a practicing physician. SB 334 passed out of the Senate on a party line vote. Action now is in House Health, again with Chairman Pack.

Worst Interests of the Child?

HB 2363, the ‘Best Interest of the Child’ (Mad Dads) bill has passed the House. It allows children to be used as financial leverage in divorce cases and hamstrings family court judges. Even if laws on child custody needs revision, this isn’t the path to better policy.  Contact Senate Judiciary Committee members with your concerns.

Consumers Beware of SB 401

SB 401 guts our consumer protections from illegal debt collections, identity theft resulting in financial losses, used car lemons and other affronts by bad actors in commerce. There is a reason these laws are on the books. There is a reason (see lead article) they’re under attack. Take this easy action now from the WV Consumer Protection Alliance: https://rebrand.ly/RejectSB401 

Health Bills Need to Move

HB 2266: Maternal health will improve if Medicaid can cover new moms postpartum  up to one year instead of the 60 days it does now. Please contact your legislators to let them know West Virginians support this important bill.

HB 2708: The Diabetes Bill is still in the House Health and Human Resources Committee. Action: click here to find out why this is needed and to contact the HHR Chair Jeffrey Pack.

HB 3001Medicaid Buy-in would allow folks to pay into Medicaid to keep its coverage when they get a slight increase in income that puts them over the income limit. This ‘cliff effect’ keeps some stuck in low paying jobs in order to keep their health care. Action: click here to send a message to members of the House Health and Human Resources Committee to move the bill!

Federal Stimulus Passes

Senator Manchin was the only one in Congress from our state who voted for the American Rescue Plan. Sad considering all the good it will do for West Virginians and the nation. Call Senator Manchin at 202-224-3954 to tell him ‘Thank you’ for voting for the American Rescue Plan and helping get it passed in the US Senate.

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