By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
February 16, 2023
They say you should always watch out for the quiet ones. That’s especially true of legislation. Because politicians try and get you to look left while they’re pulling a trick to your right.
Here are some bills I’m watching right now.
COAL SEVERANCE TAX CUT. SB168 passed the Senate Energy Committee last week. It cuts the steam coal severance tax rate at an annual cost of $22 million. The same bill was ruled unconstitutional in Kentucky recently. Steam coal prices remain very high. The industry is doing well, which is good for the state. The need for yet another tax cut when business is good defies common sense.
DARK MONEY. SB508 & SB516, which I detailed last week, both passed the Senate on overwhelming party-line votes. The bills allow more dark money in political lobbying efforts. I would say it’s shameful, but the folks wanting more money in politics have no shame.
COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD CONSOLIDATION. A certain contingent of legislators has long fought to consolidate county school boards. Their latest effort is SB99, which provides a detailed process whereby two or more counties can hold joint meetings to explore consolidating their operations. The bill also gives the legislature legal grounds to incentivize counties to consolidate. On Tuesday, it passed the Senate overwhelmingly. It’s yet another backdoor attempt at consolidation, which I think is a huge mistake. Schools are the heart of communities. The more we consolidate, the less connected our communities will be.
HOPE SCHOLARSHIP. House Education passed HB2619 which opens up the Hope Scholarship much more broadly than it is now. Currently, only students who leave public schools recently can apply for the Hope Scholarship (around $4,000 in state funds which are sent directly to students). Any and all students could apply to receive funds to pay for private school, microschool, or homeschool costs if this bill becomes law. The total cost would be well north of $100 million to the state. Our public schools would lose that amount.
CHARTER SCHOOL STIMULUS FUND. Despite charter schools now having access to millions in state funds, the Senate passed SB47 creating a new charter school stimulus fund. They argued that the schools need access to startup funds. Supporters say public schools are failing. Opponents say this is why public schools are failing–because they are undermined and defunded at every opportunity.
FOSTER CARE OMBUDSMAN. HB3061 is a continuation of a bill I introduced last year to give the foster care ombudsman more power to investigate child welfare cases. It stems from the death of five children in Greenbrier County. I repeatedly pushed for an investigation, but the foster care ombudsman lacked the legal grounds to conduct a serious investigation. This bill is vital to our most vulnerable kids.
FORM ENERGY. HB2882 caused over five hours of debate on the House floor last week and over two hours of debate on the Senate floor this week. The bill provides $105 million in economic incentives for Form Energy to create 750 jobs here in WV. Investors like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are behind Form Energy, and this company would develop large batteries to stabilize and backup our electrical grid, providing energy when prices are high or supply is cut off. A contingent of Republicans opposed it on various grounds–some said it was a risky investment, some said it would hurt coal, some said the money could be better used for other things, some said it was corporate welfare. In the end, it passed and now heads to the governor’s desk.
COUNTY ORDINANCES. SB585 forbids counties from adopting local ordinances pertaining to agricultural operations. For example, what if a county wants to adopt a noise or traffic ordinance near a commercial farm or an agritourism site? I worked to craft a bill last year that protected farmers while also allowing counties to adopt reasonable ordinances so farms and residences can coexist in our rural communities. This year, they are running a version of the bill that simply forbids county ordinances altogether. It’s backed by the WV Farm Bureau. The bill passed out of Senate Agriculture unanimously with no debate.
TAX CUT. Negotiations are ongoing as two tax cut plans are on the table now. I detailed the two plans last week. Keep your eye on Americans for Prosperity (AFP). They are the state-level lobbyists backed by the billionaire Koch Brothers who spent millions in the last election to elect a slate of their candidates. AFP has been very vocal in support of the 50% income tax cut and opposed to the Senate tax cut plan. Something tells me they will expect to get their way after all the money they poured into the last election.
Stay tuned to The Real WV for the latest. We will do our best to provide you real news via the articles and real insight via the editorials.
That is the view from the back pew. May God bless you.