The running joke in WV for as long as I have lived was “At least we’re not Kentucky.” That joke is soon going no longer going to work as the WV legislature is in session, and man has it been a total wingnut shitshow. First up, right to work:
The West Virginia State House narrowly passed a right-to-work bill on Thursday, setting the state up to become the country’s 26th that doesn’t require employees to pay dues to their unions — a measure that has hobbled organized labor elsewhere.
The bill had been fast-tracked through the legislature’s two-month session, passing through committee hearings, floor debate, and final votes in a span of three weeks — amid protest rallies and furious lobbying by unions and their allies — in order to leave enough time for the legislature to override an anticipated veto by Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. It passed by a vote of 54-46.
The passage of the Establishing West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act comes two years after Republicans took back the state House for the first time since 1928, and days after the state’s Supreme Court handed control of the evenly divided Senate to Republicans as well. The bill’s main sponsor is Republican Senate President Bill Cole, who has declared a run to replace Tomblin.
The way they took over the Senate was super special:
Senator Daniel Hall has left the Democratic Party, flipping the West Virginia Legislature entirely into the hands of the GOP, according to a source in the state’s Republican Party office.
The party affiliation change comes after a deadlock in the state Senate where Republicans and Democrats each had 17 members as a result of Tuesday’s election.
Why would he switch? Here’s the payoff:
Sen. Daniel J. Hall, R-Wyoming, is resigning from the WV Legislature to accept a job as a state liaison with the National Rifle Association, according to a news release from the WV Senate.
A guy is elected as a Democrat, switches to Republican, and then they jam through Right to Work. WHEEE. Up next on our new legislatures agenda is concealed carry:
For a second straight year, West Virginia lawmakers have taken up a bill to allow people to carry concealed handguns without obtaining permits.
House Judiciary Committee members took up the bill (HB 4145) Wednesday morning, shortly after an early public hearing where proponents called the current $100 fee for five-year conceal-carry permits an unreasonable tax on their right to bear arms, while others said allowing people to carry guns without training or background checks endangers police and public safety.
This, of course, means that we now have no way of knowing who is packing heat and whether or not they know what they are doing with it:
The West Virginia Sheriff’s Association is opposed to the legislation, but Executive Director Rodney Miller said realistically he believed it would win approval. Miller and his organizations have raised questions about the measure since it first appeared at the Capitol last year. He said since then changes have been made which make it at least more acceptable to law enforcement.
“We feel it would be more productive if we were able to limit the permitless carry to West Virginia residents,” said Miller on Metronews Talkline. “Historically, a lot of the problems for law enforcement officers across the state are drug traffickers that come into the state.”
Supporters balk at the cost of a permit and the training now required to carry a firearm concealed. Groups supporting the bill call the permits a “tax on a Constitutional right.”
“If they want to take out the fees, so be it. It’s more about the training,” said Miller. “We believe the training is paramount. Someone really needs to know what happens on the business end of that gun. It’s not a piece of jewelry and it’s not an adornment. We agree with the NRA and their training presets.”
However, doing away with the permit means doing away with the training requirement as well. The bill, as written, would allow anyone over the age of 21 to carry a concealed firearm or deadly weapon without a permit. There would still be a requirement of a permit for those between the ages of 18 and 21.
Meanwhile, we are facing large budget shortfalls, including a large gap in the Public Employee’s Insurance Agency (PEIA), in large part due to dwindling tax collection from coal and natural gas, but our intrepid legislature has a plan to deal with that. They want to pull an Indiana and kill our small but vibrant tourism industry:
The same day a pro-business coalition was announced to oppose a bill that claims to “restore” religious freedom in West Virginia, the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill.
The 16-9 vote wasn’t strictly along party lines. Republicans J.B. McCuskey of Kanawha County and Ryan Weld of Brooke voted against it. Democrats Justin Marcum of Mingo County and Steven Shaffer of Preston voted for it.
The West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act has resulted in fierce opposition from civil rights advocates over the last several days.
Businesses and organizations that spoke out against the bill as part of the pro-business coalition, Opportunity West Virginia, include the West Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, AT&T, Embassy Suites, Charleston Marriott Town Center, and Generation West Virginia.
“This movement reinforces the business community’s commitment to West Virginia and its people,” Jill Rice, spokeswoman for Opportunity West Virginia, said in a statement. “At the end of the day, legislation that would result in discrimination against individuals from any background sends a message that our state is not open for business.”
The bill codifies a legal process for determining whether a person’s religious beliefs are being violated, and whether a “compelling interest” of the state overrides their concerns. Because those who think their beliefs are being violated could argue in court that local nondiscrimination ordinances, among other civil rights laws, violate their religious beliefs, civil rights advocates fear that the law could be used to discriminate against the LGBT population, among other historically-discriminated against groups.
In the House Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday, lawmakers heard from Dr. Derek Harman, a Logan physician who worried parents would attempt to refuse to vaccinate their children; Kellie Fiedorek, an attorney for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom who told lawmakers the law has not been used to justify any criminal behavior, as some have feared; and Andrew Schneider, executive director of the LGBT rights group Fairness West Virginia.
In an interview, Schneider said, “I often hear about businesses not wanting to serve the LGBT population.”
“What they’re dreaming of are countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia which legalize discrimination in the way they are trying to emulate with this bill,” he said. “I don’t think those are countries we want to emulate.”
While some have argued the law is not an effort to target civil rights, an amendment by Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, that would have clarified the law could not be construed to permit discrimination based on sexual orientation was ruled not germane to the bill by the committee chairman, Delegate John Shott, R- Mercer.
There was some good news for the state, and that is that WVU was just granted R1 status, meaning it is in the top tier of academic institutions in the nation. But don’t celebrate too much, our legislature’s work isn’t done:
State lawmakers who’ve previously pushed for repealing West Virginia’s math and English language arts K-12 education standards have filed another bill to do so, this one with House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa and House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles as co-sponsors.
House Bill 4014, which Espinosa called a “starting point” that could see changes, currently would mandate that the state revert back to its pre-Common Core standards next school year and would require statewide standardized tests next school year to be aligned to those old standards. The state currently uses Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced tests.
There have been all sorts of shenanigans with the Board of Education for the past several years involving Manchin’s wife, some clown named Linger who basically inserted a bunch of climate change denialism, and so on, so who knows what the hell is going to happen with this.
And while they have been doing all of this, our legislature has been acting like the Politburo, demanding extreme secrecy and denying accountability and transparency. This is just a special example of the kind of people we are dealing with:
In the middle of Wednesday morning’s meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, Delegate John Shott, the chairman, made an announcement.
The committee had just passed its first bill of the morning, and was about to begin discussion of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, one of the most controversial bills of the session.
Video and photography is not permitted, Shott told the room, except by credentialed members of the media. Anyone else who wanted to photograph or record the public meeting, for whatever reason, was out of luck.
It was not the first time Shott, R-Mercer, has made the announcement. He made similar announcements last week before public hearings in the House chamber on the religious freedom bill and a right-to-work bill.
“It’s just always been a rule, I’ve heard it repeated numerous times,” Shott said. “For as long as I know.”
Others, with long histories in the House, said otherwise.
The 29 pages of written rules for the House of Delegates do not ban photography by anyone.
Delegate Tim Miley, D-Harrison, a Judiciary chairman prior to Shott, said he could remember no such prohibition. Joe Altizer, the longtime chief counsel for the committee and current minority counsel, also said he could remember no ban on photography.
So basically, for the first time in a long time, Republicans are running the state, and they are working hard to do to the state what George Bush did to the country. And this being West Virginia, it will be like this for a long, long time.