Thursday, March 09, 2006

48 Hours Remaining in Last Regular Legislative Session Under Ruling Party's Reign

In just over 48 hours, the 2006 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature will come to an end. While many political observers are marking the retirements of both House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, and House Minority Leader Charles Trump, R-Morgan, history will record the final fall of the gavel at midnight Saturday as the end of an era of 74 years of one-party rule.

At this hour, only three major bills of statewide significance remain alive: the budget bill; HB 4048, the eminent domain bill; and SB 205, the sex offender bill. The budget bill is obvious. The other two bills' fates are very uncertain. Earlier this year, the House of Delegates passed HB 4048 and created very strong protections for private property owners against eminent domain abuse. The Senate has watered down HB 4048 and should yield to the House version. SB 205 was completely rewritten and passed by the Senate last week and is now languishing in the House of Delegates.

After the Senate adopted a Republican substitute for SB 205, the Governor sprung into action and has been working feverishly to either defeat this bill or gut it, enact it, and claim the women and children of West Virginia have been adequately protected from sexual predators when they really will not. Earlier this year, when legislation similar to SB 205 as passed by the Senate was submitted for review, the estimated fiscal impact was only a few million dollars per year, according to Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha. Less than two days after the bill passed the Senate, this estimate ballooned to over $90 million and then to $162 million by last weekend. Earlier today, Will Stewart and Gary Abernathy reported on a Democratic strategy memo that calls for the gutting or defeat of SB 205 for purely partisan reasons--namely that Governor Joe's empty shell has been replaced with real substance thanks to a concerted effort by Senate Republicans.

Many, many other bills that should have been acted upon were ignored or rejected by the Ruling Party. Members of the Ruling Party overwhelmingly opposed any further reductions or elimination of the food tax; amending the state constitution to protect the definition of marriage; and closing a loophole in our state's law requiring unemancipated minors to notify their parents prior to having an abortion that makes the current law meaningless. Then, 18 of the 21 Democratic state senators introduced a bill to increase the personal exemptions from the state income tax and then voted against the bill when Republican senators endorsed the bill and brought it to a vote. A plan to give school teachers a 3% pay raise was blocked in the Senate after the Governor and the WVEA intervened to remove from the agenda of the Senate Education Committee a WVFT plan that has previously garnered the support of almost al senators.

On November 7, I predict West Virginia voters will take the opportunity presented and elect Republican majorities to both houses of the Legislature. 74 years of one-party rule have wrecked our economy as the rest of the country leaves us in the dust. With their votes in favor of same-sex marriage, keeping the food tax, and keeping child rapists and molesters eligible for probation with no mandatory prison sentences, the Ruling Party has shown that when the time for choosing comes, their actions seem far more at home in San Francisco or Massachusetts than in West Virginia.