Tarr pulls the plug on CROWN Act

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The odds of the State Senate passing SB 496, also known as the CROWN Act, went from slim to none on Monday, as Finance Committee Chair Eric Tarr R-Putnam, opted to once again keep the bill off of the committee’s agenda. 

Sponsored by Senators Mike Caputo, D-Marion, Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, and Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, SB 496 sought to prohibit discrimination based upon certain hair textures and styles historically associated with race. While recent years have seen dozens of other states pass similar legislation, the majority of West Virginia lawmakers have vehemently resisted adopting any form of the CROWN Act since 2018. 

The bill was passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 10 to seven Thursday evening, and was presented for first reading in the Senate Chamber on Friday. However, Tarr expressed concerns of “fiscal implications,” and motioned for the bill to be sent to the Finance Committee. Tarr’s fellow senators approved his motion by a vote of 22 to 12. 

“The Human Rights Commission is likely gonna have to take up more cases,” Tarr argued. “I would imagine that they’d have to add staff, have more administrative costs that’s going to be associated with it, and the Attorney General has questions with it.”

Tarr said that fiscal notes were needed to adequately evaluate the potential costs, adding that he requested such notes from BRIM (Board of Risk and Insurance Management), the Human Rights Commission, and the Attorney General’s office. Those requests were made by Tarr on Friday.

Tarr’s argument was predicated on the potential for financial impact. When pressed by Sen. Trump to provide evidence of that risk, Tarr conceded that no such evidence exists, adding, “That’s what the fiscal notes are for.” 

“As Finance Chair, I’m very aware of things that bring risk to the general revenue that comes up there,” Tarr said. “This is a very tight year. [..] It’s incumbent upon me that every time I see a bill that has a chance of that financial risk, we have to account for it.”

“With this bill, I have like a 99% confidence that we’ll see an increased expense to the state,” Tarr noted. 

Trump disputed Tarr’s argument, saying that if SB 496 were to be passed, it would clarify a legal question, thereby reducing the need for costly litigation. Additionally, Trump referenced previous action taken by the State Senate.

“There is no fiscal note for the bill,” Trump said, “Nor was there one when the identical bill was considered four years ago on the floor of this Senate and received 30 votes for passage – word for word, the identical bill.”

“I believe it is unnecessary and imprudent this late in the session to commit this bill to the Committee on Finance,” Trump added.

In fact, the lateness of the session was the primary concern for the bill’s advocates, a concern which Tarr was most certainly aware of. With crossover day – the final day for either body of the legislature to advance a bill – rapidly approaching, SB 496’s referral to the Committee on Finance was essentially a death sentence. 

That sentence was carried out on Monday, with Tarr serving as silent executioner. 

In apparently coincidentally-precision timing, all three requested fiscal notes were received on Tuesday. 

The Attorney General’s note provided an estimated increase of $10,000 in fiscal year 2024, noting, “While it is reasonable to anticipate complaints, cases, and some litigation to arise in relation to this bill’s passage, it is highly difficult to assess the degree to which such litigation would increase expenses.” 

Neither BRIM nor the Human Rights Commission provided a numerical estimate, with the former saying, “A true value is unascertainable because the number of claims is unknown,” and the latter noting, “The Department anticipates no fiscal impact from the proposed legislation.”  

Despite Tarr’s claims of, “As Finance Chair, I’m very aware of things,” the fiscal notes would seem to confirm Trump’s belief that the bill’s referral to the Finance Committee was “unnecessary and imprudent,” and Tarr’s “like 99% confidence” was misguided. And while Tarr was seemingly not aware of what West Virginia’s fiscal notes would reveal, he had immediate access to the fiscal notes from at least 17 other states, as well as the report prepared for the United States House of Representatives by the Congressional Budget Office in 2022. 

The Congressional Budget Office report regarding the CROWN Act, as well as the fiscal notes prepared for states such as Alaska, New York, Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, New Mexico, and many others are readily available through online search. Every report available indicates that there is little-to-no financial impact of implementing the CROWN Act. In what was apparently a surprise to no one but Tarr, West Virginia’s reports revealed similar findings.

It would seem that Tarr’s level of awareness has once more meant the end for a West Virginia CROWN Act in 2024. RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of the bill should any additional information be made available. 

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