BACK PEW–Fake friends

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

Ever had a “fake friend?” Someone who acts as if they care about you, but they are really just using you to further their own interests. 

It’s the worst experience, because it’s disingenuous. We would rather just stay away from those who don’t have our best interests at heart. As preachers like to say, “There are just some people you can only love from a distance.”  

This legislative session has been the ultimate “fake friend” experience. Our elected officials tell us they are looking out for us, but they are actually only looking out for themselves. 

UNEMPLOYMENT. They say they want to make West Virginia a great place to live, work, and raise a family, but on Saturday afternoon when no one was paying attention they passed a bill slashing unemployment benefits for folks who lose their jobs.

It will undercut hospitality, construction, and tourism most drastically. People who work seasonally wouldn’t be able to do so any longer. Greenbrier County’s biggest employer, The Greenbrier, would see their labor force decimated by the bill.

There’s this notion that a bunch of people are sitting on their couches drawing unemployment, but the facts show otherwise. Unemployment is extremely low right now. That being said, there were two large companies in state who announced this week that they are closing operations, and our officials passed a bill slashing their unemployment the same week. You can’t say you care about working people while taking food off their plate.

VACCINE EXEMPTIONS. They say they care about “protecting children,” but the House voted to allow vaccine exemptions for any child at any time if their parents simply writes a note on a piece of paper saying, “I want a religious exemption from vaccines.” 

Florida is dealing with a measles outbreak in schools right now amidst lowered childhood vaccine requirements. And their requirements are stricter than ours will be in West Virginia! 

Our leaders are placing a political ideal above the wellbeing of children. They cry “freedom” when their actions lack responsibility and take freedom away when long-forgotten diseases make a comeback and harm children. 

CHILD LABOR PROTECTIONS. They say they want to promote “work ethic” among young people and consequently voted to roll back child labor protections. The bill allows children to begin working at age 14 without a work permit, which currently has to be signed off by the child’s school in addition to their parents.

I worked when I was that age and see the value in it, but that’s not what this bill is about. Big money lobbying groups are pushing the child labor rollbacks all across the nation in state legislatures in order to make a buck off the backs of children. 

FINANCES.  They say they care about the “financial impact” of bills, but the Senate only refers bills to the Finance Committee they want to stop. 

On Friday, the Crown Act was referred to the Finance Committee at the request of Finance Chairman, Sen. Eric Tarr. The Crown Act seeks to stop discrimination based on a person’s hairstyle. As the Judiciary Chairman, Sen. Charles Trump, argued on the floor, it has no financial impact on the state budget. Unless it encourages more people to move here knowing they won’t be discriminated against. Yet the Senate voted with Sen. Tarr and sent the bill to Finance, where it’s likely to remain and not come before the full Senate. 

A few minutes later, Sen. Mike Caputo made a motion to refer a bill taking food stamps away from certain adults to the Finance Committee. He argued it would affect the state budget, as witness testimony said it would have a cost to the state. However, Sen. Tarr opposed the motion and the bill moved forward without any investigation of its financial impact. 

They only care about a bill’s “financial impact” when they oppose it ideologically. 

REMOVE MEDICAL TREATMENT EXCEPTION FOR GENDER-AFFIRMING CARE. Last year, they banned gender-affirming surgery but allowed an exception for medical treatments for certain youth who may be considering suicide. This year, they voted to remove that exception in the House Health Committee. No one spoke in favor of it. No medical professionals testified. They just did it, as they once again talked about “protecting children.” 

It’s not really about gender-affirming care. Balding men undergo gender-affirming care all the time when they seek to regrow their hair. But nobody ever mentions that. They just pick on vulnerable kids in the name of protecting them. 

We all get it. Picking on trans kids makes for great political theater. It wins votes and keeps you in office, but don’t tell us you actually care about protecting kids when you remove a lifeline for kids whose suicide rates are the highest in the world.  

FINAL DAYS. We are coming down to the wire in the final days of this legislative session. What will our fake friends pass, what will they let die, and what surprises are in store? We will do our best to keep you updated every day at The Real WV. 

That’s the view from the back pew. May God bless each and every one of you! 

Stephen Baldwin is a Presbyterian minister and the former Senate Minority Leader from Greenbrier County. He is the publisher of The Real WV.

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