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--- Hey! What happened to all those job bills the Republicans promised us?

Published by waner in WV legislature · 17/3/2015 16:55:00
Tags: legislaturejobs
The State Jounal writes:

"This session has been focused on jobs, protecting the ones we have in our coal and energy industries and growing the economy so that new faces can move here, grow here and help us prosper going forward," said Lucas. Republican Party chairman.  He claimed that the Republicans "did more for the taxpayers in 60 days than had been done in the last 60 years."

Really? Let's see. The Republican legislature passed anti-abortion legislation,  weakened both miner safety and water storage inspection, got rid of most restrictions for "concealed carry" of weapons, changed the method of computing prevailing wage, and dealt with tort reform. The last two supposedly improved the business climate in the state. Local Democratic Senator Jeff Kessler had a different perspective:
  
“It’s mostly been a lot of mean-spirited repeal, taking away from either consumers or workers or wages or from the education system,” Kessler said. “I haven’t seen anything that has created any jobs, fixed a pothole or improved the quality of life in our communities.”

I think that sums it up very well. 


--- Your legislature at work 4 (with update - February 27)

Published by waner in WV legislature · 26/2/2015 17:00:00
Tags: legislature
Michael Erb is down in Charleston covering the legislature for the local "newspapers." For the most part, we get to read a great deal about what is on the Ogden agenda -- abortion, right-to-work, prevailing wage, and charter schools -- but not so much about other bills that may be just as important or, in some cases, demonstrate how truly reactionary the legislature has become. Via the Charleston newspapers, Charlie Pierce, and other sources, here are a few actions by the legislature that you may have missed.
 
Getting rid of non-discrimination ordinances

Gay WVU professor Daniel Brewster writes about it in yesterday's Huffington Post:

There has been great progress in many towns across the state of West Virginia, as well as institutions like West Virginia University and the State Board of Education in regard to inclusion. However, today, WV HB2881 was introduced by the House Government Organization Committee. The bill will invalidate all city and town policies across West Virginia that have implemented nondiscrimination ordinances and resolutions. The Bill will also invalidate policies like the ones held by institutions like West Virginia University that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policy. The Bill would also affect the West Virginia State Board of Education who has surprisingly some of the strongest policies across the nation in protecting LGBT students against harassment and bullying. The HB 2881 is masked as an attempt to create more uniform protection for West Virginians and increase intrastate commerce.

According to a number of commenters at Huffington Post, a very similar bill is making the rounds of a number of state legislatures.  (ALEC and Koch-supported groups are pushing it.)

Here's more on the bill from the Gazette:

House Bill 2881, sponsored by Del. Lynn Arvon, R- Raleigh, was approved 16-8 by the House Government Organization committee on Wednesday. It will be the subject of a public hearing in the House chamber of the state Capitol at 8 a.m. on Friday.

The bill would strip away the ability of counties, municipalities and other political subdivisions to prohibit discrimination against a class of people not already protected by state law.

While lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender West Virginians can now marry in West Virginia, it is still legal to fire or evict a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the state. The West Virginia Human Rights Act does not mention sexual orientation or gender identity.
 
Criminalizing Obamacare

The Gazette reports:

In another salvo against the federal Affordable Care Act, some Republicans in West Virginia’s House of Delegates want to make it a crime for state and federal officials to enforce the health-care law.

Under the GOP-backed bill (HB2509), federal employees would face felony charges, while state workers would be arrested for a misdemeanor offense, if they try to administer any federal regulations under the Affordable Care Act. The legislation also declares the federal health-care law “invalid” in West Virginia.

The Gazette seems to think that the bill will not make it through committee. It's amazing to me that it was even put on the committee's agenda.

Another repressive and wasteful measure -- drug testing for welfare recipients

Hoppy Kercheval writes:

The West Virginia Legislature likely will pass a bill this session creating a drug testing program for welfare recipients. One version (HB 2021), which cleared the House Health and Resources Committee last week, requires drug testing for adults receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) if they have a drug conviction or if there is a reasonable suspicion that the individual is on drugs.

If you research this topic, you will find that a lot of money is expended to catch very few offenders. From "What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients":

According to state data gathered by ThinkProgress, the seven states with existing programs — Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out very few drug users. The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent. Meanwhile, they’ve collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort, and millions more may have to be spent in coming years.
 
 
Getting rid of needless regulation
 
From the Gazette:

A Republican state lawmaker who owns a heating, ventilation and cooling business in the Eastern Panhandle is pushing a bill that would repeal all state laws that regulate HVAC technicians.

Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, sponsored the repeal bill and voted for it at a House of Delegates committee meeting last week.

Isn't this a conflict of interest? Local delegate Shawn Fluharty pointed out the obvious:

“Just looking at the bill, it doesn’t pass the smell test,” Fluharty said. “To have somebody to come in here and try to repeal a law about public safety, while they’re going to benefit from the repeal, I think that’s an injustice. We shouldn’t be here for personal gain and put personal profit over the people.”
 
The Gazette notes that Householder was offended by Fluharty's comments.


Add all of this to the right-to-work, prevailing wage, anti-abortion, charter schools, and elimination of permits for concealed weapons legislation -- that's quite a bit of damage and they don't finish until March 14.


Updates (February 27)

on non-discrimination ordinances

The senate majority leader told the AP that they would not take up the bill:

 There's "no way" the West Virginia Senate will consider a proposal to erase local ordinances that protect gay and transgender people from housing and employment discrimination, the second-ranking senator said Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael made the remarks Thursday, a day after a panel in the House of Delegates approved the bill.

The House of Delegates were scheduled to have hearings on the bill this morning, however. 


on repealing regulations on HVAC technicians

This morning's Charleston Gazette reports that an ethics complaint has been filed against Delegate Eric Household who sponsored the bill that would eliminate all regulation of HVAC technicians:

A union worker has filed an ethics complaint against Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, alleging that Householder’s heating, cooling and ventilation business stands to profit from legislation the GOP lawmaker is pushing through the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Householder’s bill, which does away with all state laws that regulate HVAC technicians, would allow him to gain financially because he could pay lower wages to his workers, according to the complaint filed this week with the state Ethics Commission.

The complaint was filed by Steve Hancock who belongs to the Sheet Metal Workers union in Wheeling.  


--- Your legislature at work 3

Published by waner in WV legislature · 14/2/2015 10:23:00
Tags: wvlegislatureabortioncoalFerns
Miner Safety

Ken Ward, Jr. from the Charleston Gazette describes the free rein given the West Virginia Coal Association in creating legislation:

The proposal, which is making its way through the House (HB 2566) and the Senate (SB 357), would give coal operators a shield against citizen lawsuits over Clean Water Act violations and a long-sought change in the state’s pollution limit for aluminum.

The bill also would remove several longstanding safety protections for West Virginia’s coal miners. It would eliminate a labor-industry panel that reviews underground diesel equipment to ensure that miners are safe from toxic fumes. It would push back, from 500 feet to 1,500 feet, the maximum distances work areas can be from tracks that miners might have to use to escape in an emergency. It would remove language that ensures workers are kept in safe locations during potentially dangerous moves of mining equipment from one work area to another.

Chris Hamilton, who is vice president of the association argues that he would never be in favor of legislation that would “lessen protections for our miners.”

Yeah, right. Cecil Roberts, who is president of the United Mine Workers union, disagrees:

“As long as miners continue to die in West Virginia’s mines,” he said last week, “we need to be looking for ways to strengthen health and safety protections — not gut them.”

I didn't see much about this in our local "newspapers."

Abortion

On the other hand, the locals do cover the various anti-abortion bills. From Thursday's Intelligencer:

A bill banning abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy was approved Wednesday by the House of Delegates and will now be taken up by the Senate.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would prohibit abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy, the time in which advocates of the ban say a fetus can feel pain. After nearly two hours of debate on the House floor, delegates voted 87-12 to pass the bill.

Kaili Joy Gray responds:

West Virginia’s legislature sure is focused on fixing the state’s biggest problems. Like the problem of women having abortions after 20 weeks, which happened all of six times in 2011, and is a constitutionally protected right? Yeah, the state is totally going to fix that.

On Wednesday, the House of Delegates passed a bill, HB 2568, that would ban abortions at 20 weeks because, well, they just think that sounds like a good idea. At 20 weeks, according to the legislators, fetuses can feel pain. According to actual doctors, however, that is completely wrong. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists sent a letter to West Virginia’s legislature, spelling it out for them, with science and medical facts and everything:

The statement “substantial medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization” is not accurate.

But what do a bunch of obstetricians and gynecologists know about babies and lady parts and pregnancy anyway, huh?

Senator Ryan Ferns

And then there is Ryan Ferns. State senator Ferns certainly gets a lot of publicity in our local newspapers. Wednesday's edition told us (with a picture of him) "Sen. Ryan Ferns of Wheeling Continues Vaccine Bill Push in Legislature:"

Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said Tuesday his bill had been laid over, meaning a vote had been taken to stop debate on the measure until a later time. He said talk is expected to resume this week.

Just reading the local "newspapers" might give you the impression that Ferns has been very pro-active, especially for a freshman state senator. That's not the impression you get if you read the Charleston papers or, for that matter, google him with "WV legislature."  His bill has received scant attention in Charleston and, for that matter, in any WV media other than Wheeling where it has gotten plenty of coverage. I've spent some time trying to find out more about what happened to and what is the future of  Fern's bill. I can't find any mention of it or, for that matter Ryan Ferns. My hunch is the Ferns, like most freshman senators is relatively insignificant in the scheme of things. For whatever reason, however, someone up here likes him and he getting a lot more publicity than he probably deserves.


--- Your legislature at work II

Published by waner in WV legislature · 8/2/2015 12:37:55
Tags: abortionrighttoworkcoal

Mining

In addition to mostly-eliminating the monitoring of industrial waste in WV’s waters, the legislature is letting the coal industry write mining legislation.  As Ken Ward, Jr. reports in the Charleston Gazette:

Representatives of working coal miners and from the state’s environmental community turned out Thursday to oppose a legislative initiative from the West Virginia Coal Association, saying the bill wrongly weakens protection for workers and water quality. . . .

Provisions of the bills mirror those outlined in a coal association legislative program that said the state’s "recent election results may provide an opportunity to examine steps we can take, through our Legislature, to address the problems we have to create a new paradigm and a new business climate in our state that will allow not only coal but all business to grow and prosper."  


Prevailing Wage

Phil Kabler (also at the Gazette) notes that Republicans seem to be in a hurry to eliminate prevailing wage:


Given that every new law has at least one, and usually multiple unintended consequences, it would seem to behoove the Legislature to try to determine if there is validity to assertions that the repeal of prevailing wage will whack somewhere between $55 million to more than $80 million a year of personal income tax and sales tax collections out of state coffers (and also taking away a good bit of economic activity for state retailers, restaurants, and other businesses), or that it will open the floodgates to out-of-state contractors using migrant workers.

Instead, as we saw last week with partisan vote rejecting Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler’s motion to block acceptance of the committee report, Republicans are dead-set on fast-tracking the legislation.
At this point, one gets the impression that with prevailing wage and the right to work bill, Republicans are less interested in policy than in punishing labor unions that have campaigned against them for decades.


Abortion

Finally (and you may have seen this elsewhere), the Intelligencer did tell us two days ago that an anti-abortion bill was being debated. What they didn’t report was Republican Delegate Brian Kurcaba’s explanation for why he was against an amendment sponsored by the Democrats that would make an exception for rape victims:

Obviously rape is awful. What is beautiful is the child that could come from this.



--- Your legislature at work!

Published by waner in WV legislature · 4/2/2015 15:12:52
Tags: leakschemical

Who's in charge here?

Their memories are short or more likely, they're just responding to industry, rather than consumer, needs. From Ken Ward, Jr. in the Charleston Gazette:


Thousands of chemical storage tanks across West Virginia would be exempt from the law passed in the wake of the Freedom Industries spill, under legislation introduced Tuesday in the House of Delegates.

The bill (HB2574) would rewrite the definition of “above-ground storage tank” so that only tanks located within “zones of critical concern” near public drinking water intakes would be subject to new state safety standards and inspection requirements.

“The bill is an extreme gutting of the protections the Legislature passed unanimously last year,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “It makes us question if anything was learned at all from the water crisis, as this essentially returns us to where we were with underregulated above-ground storage tanks threatening our water.”


You can't just blame the new Republican majority -- four of the eleven co-sponsors are Democrats.

I wonder how this applies to the proposed Green Hunter facility in Warwood?



--- What's going on in the WV legislature? (2)

Published by waner in WV legislature · 15/1/2015 20:00:56
Tags: legislature

Republicans begin work on repeal of the 2009 Alternate Energy Bill

The Charleston Gazette is reporting that first up for Republicans will be the repeal of a bill that would require electric companies to use alternative fuels for 25% of the their electricity by 2025:

The Alternative Energy Portfolio Act, passed by lawmakers and signed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin, requires power plants to reach thresholds for using alternative fuels, ultimately to account for 25 percent of electricity generated by 2025.

At the time it passed, lobbyists for coal and electric utilities signed onto the bill, which was criticized by environmentalists for what they considered overly broad definitions for alternative fuels, including various types of coal technologies.


According to the Gazette, Senator Manchin was not happy:

"I am deeply disappointed that the Republicans in the West Virginia Legislature have decided to play partisan politics with our state’s energy and utility rates by attempting to repeal the bipartisan Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio law.

I had always hoped and believed that the corrosive political atmosphere that has been so destructive in Washington would not make its way to our great state,” Manchin said. “This attempt by Republicans proves that the worst of Washington political gamesmanship has made its way to West Virginia.


He's surprised that "it's made it's way to West Virginia"  - he can't be that naive.


Allowing chemical tanks near our drinking water to go uninspected - what could possibly go wrong?

According to the Gazette:

Changes that industry groups are promoting for West Virginia’s new chemical tank safety law would allow thousands of tanks located “in close proximity” to drinking water intakes to escape requirements for periodic inspections and mandated safety standards, according to a new analysis of data gathered by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

My hunch is that this is what the Wheeling's mayor was defending earlier this week. (see two posts down)




--- What's going on in the WV legislature? (1)

Published by waner in WV legislature · 13/1/2015 16:48:50
Tags: legislatureMcKenzie

If you read both the Wheeling Intelligencer and the Charleston Gazette for legislative news, you get different perspectives (right-wing Republican and center/left Democratic) and sometimes different coverage. Today is no exception. While both saw job growth in WV as the legislature’s top priority, they differed on emphasis. Here’s the Intelligencer’s perspective:

(Sen. Mitch) Carmichael said Republican lawmakers will address three areas of reform which he believes will lead to new jobs and a better business climate in the state.

"Tort reform, tax reform and regulatory reform," he said. "Those are broad areas that will be underpinned with specific bills. The goal is job growth."


The Gazette stressed the tort reform:

Incoming West Virginia Senate leaders gave a glimpse into their legislative agenda Monday, saying they plan to push through bills that reform the state’s legal system, but they expect to put off comprehensive tax reform measures until next year.

Senate President-to-be Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said lawmakers’ tort reform package would include restrictions on class-action lawsuits and jury awards.


Wheeling mayor Andy Mckenzie was there and appropriately featured in an Intelligencer story about home rule. The Gazette, however, quoted him on regulation of above ground storage tanks:

Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Gas Association, and Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie criticized new state regulations on aboveground storage tanks. The Legislature passed the regulations after the Jan. 9, 2014, Freedom Industries chemical spill that contaminated water for more than 300,000 West Virginians.


"West Virginia has overreached in water regulation without solving the problem," McKenzie said. "We need to focus on the water coming into the [water treatment plants]."
  

Given local concerns about the possibility of a Green Hunter plant that will process fracking water on the Ohio River in Warwood, it’s interesting (but not surprising) that the Intelligencer chose not to mention the mayor’s comments.



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