By Matthew Young, RealWV
The West Virginia Legislature slid sideways across the finish line Saturday night, as the 2023 session came screeching to a halt. For the past 60 days, debate – oftentimes devolving into name calling and temper tantrums – over tax cuts, religious freedom, pay raises, guns in schools, child brides, and medical autonomy filled the capital. Now, as Mountaineers spring forward on March 12, it is for them to judge the effectiveness of the state’s body politic.
In a final “blink and you’ll miss it” moment Saturday, the Senate once again suspended transparency rules to pass HB 2883.
West Virginia’s Constitution requires that every piece of legislation be “fully and distinctly read” on three separate days in both chambers of the legislature. While the House of Delegates did reasonably well in terms of following that rule, the Senate repeatedly and intentionally disregarded the state’s constitution to rush bills through the legislative process without the bother of public scrutiny. This practice began on day-one of the 2023 legislative session, as the Senate’s first order of business was to circumvent the constitution for the advancement of 23 bills.
Sponsored by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, at the request of Gov. Jim Justice, HB 2883 was presented on Jan. 20 with the intention of transferring $685 million from West Virginia’s Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund. The bill was read a first time in the House of Delegates on March 8, and a second time on March 9. After a third reading on March 10, the House passed HB 2883 by a vote of 79 to 17.
If enacted, HB 2883 will appropriate $1 million from the state’s Coronavirus Recovery Fund to Marshall University. Another $20 million from the fund would go to the Reclamation of Abandoned and Dilapidated Property Program, and $177 million would go to the Water Development Authority.
The bulk of the appropriation would go to the Department of Economic Development, with $5 million designated for site ready projects. The remaining $482 million has no clear designation in the bill, only that it “shall be transferred to the Economic Development Authority (fund 9069).” Fund 9069 is used for the purposes of corporate loans for “high impact development projects,” as well as more “traditional” corporate loans.
HB 2883 was introduced in the Senate Chamber at 5:46 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Less than one minute after its introduction, every member of the Senate voted in favor of once again disregarding the constitutional rule that the bill be read “fully and distinctly” on three separate days. As the bill was taken up with just over six hours to go before the conclusion of the session, readings on three different days were not possible. However, as HB 2883 was originally introduced on Jan. 20, the question of “Why the sudden rush?” can not be overlooked.
There was no discussion of the bill. There were no questions asked about the bill. The bill was not worked through any Senate committee.
At 5:48 p.m. – exactly 129 seconds after being presented to members – the Senate unanimously passed HB 2883.
Last week, lawmakers spent more than four hours defending the need to raise insurance rates for state employees by 26%, while increasing their own salaries by 33%. On Friday, senators spent 30 minutes arguing that underage marriage is necessary for the preservation of West Virginia’s family values, and another hour debating the legislature’s right to tell doctors and parents how their children should be medically treated. In 129 seconds on Saturday, they spent $685 million in silence.
RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of legislation awaiting Gov. Jim Justice’s approval or rejection as additional information is made available.