Monday, February 20, 2006

Legislative Dems: No to Abolishing the Food Tax, Yes to Same-Sex Marriage, No to Reforming Eminent Domain, Yes to 67% Legislator Pay Raise

That's today's news from the Legislature.

The House of Delegates rejected a motion to discharge the bill abolishing the food tax from the Finance Committee, allowing Chairman Harold Michael, D-Hardy, to sit on the bill and kill it. Delegate Tom Louisos, D-Fayette, was the only Democrat to join 30 of the Republicans. House Finance Committee Chairman Harold Michael, D-Hardy, has no plans to place this bill on his committee's agenda. As the deadline for all bills to pass their house of origin is March 1, committee action must be completed by February 27 unless the necessary 4/5 vote to suspend the constitutional rule requiring bills to be read on 3 separate days is obtained.

A reliable source from within the state Senate says Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, plans to sit on SJR 12, the Marriage Protection Amendment, and obstruct its passage. This comes on the same day that Will Stewart revealed that HJR 106 sponsor Delegate John Pino, D-Fayette, admitted that his resolution was a sham and that he had no real intent of ever getting the thing passed and sent to the voters. Your Democratic legislators in West Virginia now want a future state Supreme Court to have an open door to force upon this state same-sex marriage just as their counterparts in Massachusetts did two years ago. If Pino's name sounds familiar on this site, that's because I recently wrote about his proposal to tax bottled water.

But Jeff Kessler is not using just SJR 12 as a seat cushion.

  • SB 85, by Senator Don Caruth, R-Mercer, simplifying the concealed handgun license reciprocity process, was introduced on the first day of the session but has yet to be placed on the committee's agenda. Chairman Kessler was endorsed in 2004 by the NRA, yet he has not permitted this very important bill for gun owners to see the light of day. Sitting on a bill like this should cost him his "A+" rating and NRA endorsement in 2008. Of the states that have a CHL reciprocity law or otherwise recognize any licenses issued by other states, West Virginia ranks last in the number of other states whose licenses are currently honored: 2, KY and VA.
  • SB 205, the Governor's empty shell of a bill to toughen the state's sex offender laws, was also introduced at the beginning of the session, but has yet to receive a hearing in committee.
  • SB 276, the Protect Our Children Act, sponsored by Senator Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, and 15 other senators, would truly toughen the state's sex offender laws. This bill was introduced on January 25.

Although HB 4048, the eminent domain reform bill, has not made it to the Senate Judiciary Committee yet, this bill seems a likely candidate for supplementing Kessler's seat cushion. HB 4048 was referred to the Senate Economic Development Committee, followed by the Government Organization Committee, then the Judiciary Committee. The House passed HB 4048 early in the session with strong bipartisan support, providing private property owners virtually unlimited protection from the use of eminent domain to force them to sell their property to any other private owner, even in cases of "economic development," "urban renewal," or the oft-abused "blight abatement."

If you think a desire to avoid controversial issues in an election year is driving all this inaction, please take a seat before reading further. Today, Senate leaders announced they would push forward with SB 421, raising legislators' annual salaries from $15,000 to $20,000 this year and $25,000 in 2008. I personally have no problems with this bill; indeed, the sponsors of this bill are numerous on both sides of the aisle. While some (like Delegate Joe C. Ferrell, D-Logan, who has yet to attend a single House session this year) are not deserving, many legislators work long hours during sessions and serve their constituents on a year-round basis when the Legislature is not in session and they're not being paid.

However, how stupid are the leaders of the Ruling Party to put this bill on the agenda at the same time they say "we have no money" to eliminate the food tax or cut any other taxes; don't want to ruffle any feathers by passing a constitutional amendment forever banning same-sex marriage; and seems to have neither the time nor the desire to tackle the many other problems facing our state?

I almost feel like calling some of my friends on the other side of the aisle and warning them of the future that awaits them this summer and fall given the current course of events. Did none of these people watch the 2004 state Supreme Court race? Did they not see how one of the state's most enduring political figures was reduced to a maniacal tirade two months before the election that sealed his defeat to a first-time candidate for office? Do they not think these actions today--and the House vote last week against the Marriage Protection Amendment--will be the subject of numerous TV ads, direct mail pieces, and other advertising. Warren McGraw was driven to his Labor Day Meltdown after being exposed over the Tony Arbaugh case--in which he let a serial child molester who got probation in a plea deal and then violated probation get another chance and participate in a program that could have ultimately had him employed as a janitor in a school. But most legislators now face same-sex marriage, no action on the food tax, and a massive legislator pay raise as issues in their races.