- Worst Bills of the 2016 WV Legislature that Became Law
- Worst Bills of the Legislature that Almost Became Law
- Good Bills that were Signed by the Governor
- Good Bills that Didn’t Pass
- The Budget
This session was horrible – one wacky right wing idea after another. There were a few bright spots, but not many. The current budget impasse is alarming. Under the worst case scenario, cuts could result in thousands of employees laid off, the elimination of the Promise scholarship and the closure of parks, campuses and more. As the lone Democrat left in our House delegation, I voted no a lot. I am proud to stand up for fairness, and it has helped that so many of you have encouraged and thanked me.
Worst Bills of the 2016 WV Legislature that Became Law
1. HB 4145 Concealed Carry - This bill eliminates the requirement for citizens over 21 to have a license, background check or training to carry a concealed deadly weapon, so long as they are not prohibited by state or federal law from possessing firearms. Those under 21 must now obtain a provisional permit, which requires training. The bill also creates a tax credit of up to $50 for firearm safety training. The bill was vetoed by the Governor because of public safety and the $3 million price tag of the credit, but the Legislature over-rode the veto. I voted No.
2. HB 4005 Eliminate Prevailing Wages - It has long been the law that whenever state funding is used on public projects, workers should be paid the prevailing wage, including benefits, that is being paid to workers in the surrounding community. Prevailing wage laws for federal projects were enacted after the Civil War when Congress established the 8-hour day. The purpose is to have competition for tax funded projects be based on quality and efficiency rather than a "race to the bottom" as contractors underbid one another. I voted No.
3. SB 1 Workplace Freedom - This bill makes West Virginia a so-called “Right to Work” state. Under current federal law, if a majority of employees at a workplace form a union through an official National Labor Relations Board election, the union is the exclusive bargaining authority for every employee in the unit. Under federal law, employees are not required to be union members. However, federal law permits people who do not want to be union members to pay only the portion of dues that goes directly to negotiations and grievance work. This bill permits free riders, i.e. employees can now opt out of paying anything to the union, even though the union would still be required to represent them. Governor Tomblin vetoed the bill and the veto was over-ridden. I voted No.
3. SB 10 Abortion Ban after 13 weeks of pregnancy - This bill amounts to an unconstitutional ban of nearly all dilation and extraction (D & E) abortions, which physicians informed us is the safest abortion procedure in the 2nd trimester and used in 95% of those cases. Abortions in the third trimester are already banned in WV. Physicians who violate the law are subject to losing their license and lawsuits. Cynically named the “dismemberment” bill (obviously not a medical term), bill advocates argued that it’s not a complete ban of D & E abortions if the fetus is killed first. Such a requirement is more dangerous for women and is not the standard of care. There are no exceptions for rape and incest or if a woman threatens to commit suicide. I voted No.
4. HCR 36 Constitutional Convention - This resolution, which passed both Houses and is now final (the Governor does not need to sign it), calls upon Congress to schedule a convention under Article V of the federal constitution. The purpose is to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced budget. This is a very dangerous proposition. Although the wording attempts to limit its application to one issue, there is no way that the resolution can be binding – the entire federal constitution could be reconsidered and changed if 2/3 of the states (37) join in this effort. WV is now the 28th state to submit an application to Congress. The timing is ironic, since under the House and Senate GOP leadership, WV has been unable to balance its own budget. I voted No.
Worst Bills of the Legislature that Almost Became Law
1. HB 4012 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) - Despite the fact that our federal and state constitutions already protect religious liberty, this bill would have allowed persons to sue local and state governments if they felt they were being restricted because of their religious beliefs. Unbelievably, we heard testimony from a lawyer in another state who sued about a refusal to bake a cake for a same sex couple. What a stupid, mean reason for a law. Several House attempts to amend the bill to clarify that it could not be used to justify discrimination failed. Fortunately, the bill did not make it through the Senate. I voted No.
2. SB 508 Nuisance - Nuisance is an area of the law that dates back to England. It gives landowners a right to sue if they are unable to comfortably enjoy the use of their property. Suits have traditionally been brought for unreasonable pollution, or excessive dust, noise or light. This bill would take away a property owner’s right to file a nuisance claim so long as the offending person or corporation had a permit or license, making coal, oil and gas companies with permits immune from nuisance claims. I wrote to the House Judiciary Chair and asked him not put the bill on the committee agenda. Thankfully, the bill was never taken up.
3. HB 4266 Forced Pooling - This bill would, without the property owner’s consent, allow oil and gas operators to drill horizontally once they leased 80% of the acreage to be included in a pool or unit, so long as they made a good faith effort to obtain consent from the owners of the remaining 20% of the acreage. I opposed this bill on constitutional grounds. Jointly, House Democrats and tea party Republicans were able to block this bill.
Good Bills that were Signed by the Governor
1. HB 4334 Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) - This bill addresses the licensing of APRNs and allows them to practice nursing to the extent of their education within their area of specialization, like ObGyn, Family Practice, etc. Currently, APRNs can only prescribe when they are in a collaborative relationship with a WV physician. With passage, APRNs can prescribe (except opioids) and practice nursing without supervision by a physician after completion of three years of practice in a collaborative relationship. I was a sponsor of the bill.
2. SB 298 Brunch Bill - This bill permits counties to hold a county referendum to allow restaurants and private clubs to sell alcohol on Sunday morning starting at 10 a.m., rather than the current 1 p.m., which would allow drinks to be served during Sunday brunch. The referendum could also allow retailers to sell beer and wine on Sundays beginning at 10 a.m. and allow distilleries, mini-distilleries, wineries, farm wineries, and wine retailers to give samples and make sales beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays. I supported this bill.
3. HB 4009 Letting Our Counties Act Locally Act (Local Act) - This bill provides county commissions with a way to obtain funding to build or maintain infrastructure by allowing them to impose transportation sales and use taxes of no more than 1%. The bill authorizes counties to create road construction plans after a public hearing, public comment, and after receiving the approval of affected municipalities and the Dept. of Highways. The plan must be approved by over 50% of county voters. After passage, the WV Economic Development Authority will issue special revenue bonds secured by the additional sales taxes. I voted yes, in part because Charleston’s roads are much better than ours, and they have a 1% sales tax and a use fee.
4. HB 4228 Uber - This bill would allow Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) to operate in the state under certain conditions, including paying an annual fee and disclosing what riders will be charged on their website. Customers will pay by credit through the internet. The bill requires TNCs to have insurance coverage, maintain zero tolerance policies for drug or alcohol, and conduct criminal background check on drivers. TNC vehicles must meet inspection requirements, but will not regulated by the Public Service Commission. I was unhappy with the weak anti-discrimination policy in the bill, but supported the law to encourage competition.
5. HB 4362 Strangulation - This bill establishes a new felony offense for restricting another person’s air intake or blood flow by application of pressure on the neck or throat causing substantial physical pain or impaired physical condition, without the person’s consent. Law enforcement members testified that air flow can be cut-off by the strength equivalent to a hand-shake, and that death by strangulation is usually preceded by several incidents of strangulation. However, it has been difficult to charge strangulation as a felony, because it does not always cause noticeable damage. Prison sentences can be up to 5 years. I was a sponsor.
Good Bills that Didn’t Pass
1. HB 4889 Human Trafficking - I was the lead sponsor of this bill, which the Governor vetoed last year. A new version that had been agreed upon by both Houses passed the House at 11:59 pm on the last night of the session, but the message was not received by the Senate, so it did not become law. We will be mounting a campaign to ask the Governor to put the bill on the call if and when he calls a special session to deal with the state budget. For more info on this campaign, see my Face book page, https://www.facebook.com/barbara.fleischauer/
2. HB 4564 PEIA/Tobacco Tax Increase - This bill would have increased the tax on tobacco products and used the increased revenue to fund public employees’ insurance (PEIA) and substance abuse programs. Tobacco taxes would increase the first year by $1.00 per pack. In later years, the tax would increase 10 cents per pack until the additional tax increase becomes $1.50. The first $120 million in revenue would be placed in a special account for PEIA. Funds over that amount would be placed in a special account for drug treatment. I was a sponsor.
3. HB 4684 Local Energy Efficiency Partnerships (LEEP) - Small businesses frequently get short-changed when it comes to economic development assistance, but passage of the LEEP Act would provide a way for local governments to assist small businesses finance energy efficiency improvements. This legislation will promote local economic development and protect our environment. Twenty-nine other states have already passed similar laws. I was a sponsor.
Like many other energy states, West Virginia is in a budget crisis. The cost of oil, gas and coal is so low that our severance taxes have taken an enormous hit. We are beginning to see an effect on income tax revenue from job losses related to low energy prices. Lowered business taxes and eliminating the food tax resulted in a permanent loss in that revenue. We now have a $250 million structural hole in our state budget - one that will recur year after year unless we fix it. The Governor proposed fixing it by keeping the 4% across-the-board cuts to agencies, raising the tobacco tax by 45 cents per pack, and imposing a telecommunications tax.
The Senate’s budget kept the cuts, nixed the telecommunications tax, but raised the tobacco tax by $1.00. The House budget preserved the cuts and swept one-time money, but included no new taxes. It may work for 2016-2017, but does not deal with the structural deficit in the future.
The House plan sounds good. But an immediate consequence of having no long-term plan is that we will lose our good bond rating. Our state, like any homeowner with a mortgage, borrows money. Obviously, we will have to borrow more money if we are charged a higher interest rate. Thus, our structural budget hole will be increasing in future years. If there is no additional revenue, in future years, there will be layoffs of teachers, closures of regional offices, state parks and higher education regional campuses, and large cutbacks in services and benefits, such as the Promise scholarship, PEIA and Medicaid for our most vulnerable citizens.
We are all pretty used to elected officials blaming each other for problems, but it’s hard to see how using nearly all of our time debating divisive social issues was more important than coming to agreement on a long-term balanced budget. The Governor is expected to call a special session to tackle the budget again, sometime soon. Stay tuned.... TOP