….When the West Virginia Legislature convened to do the “people’s business” on Wednesday, the people were conspicuously absent.
…..Gov. Jim Justice’s 2020 Executive Order prohibiting visitors to the Capitol unless they have appointments remains in place for the 2021 Legislative Session. That means those seeking to speak to legislators may do so only with an appointment. Those wishing to observe the session, always part of a lobbyist’s job, will now be limited to doing so through the live streaming of floor sessions and committee meeting.
….It’s not going to be easy for legislators or for those charged with monitoring the session. Both House and Senate leadership addressed the safety of their members and staff at a Legislative Lookahead last week. The House is a challenge and observing social distancing is difficult. Two House Galleries (balconies) have been reserved for delegates who require additional space for safety concerns. The rear Gallery is reserved for credentialed members of the media with a limit of 18 people per floor sessions. All floor sessions will be live streamed with audio and video. All Committee meetings will be audio streamed. House Committee meetings will take place in the House Chamber with the exception of Government Organization which has a larger space. Those in the House Chamber will be video streamed as well. Those in Government Organization will not as they do not have the equipment in that room.
…While the Senate Chambers have more room for the 34 members, the Committee rooms do not and Senators may participate in committee meetings from their offices.
…..Precautions are being taken for good reason. Two other states have had to halt their sessions after only two weeks due to COVID outbreaks.
…..While leaders say they will get their work done quickly in case they have to recess, I don’t think that makes for good lawmaking. The process takes time and consideration. The first several weeks of the Finance Committee are always taken up with budget presentation from all state agencies prior to any bills being consider. Also, how often will the committees be able to meet if meetings are limited to the House Chamber?
….It appears that communicating with State legislators will only be possible through electronics (e-mail, text, telephone or zoom). Legislative leaders have said legislators will hold virtual office hours. One of the legislative leaders said legislators will be legislating in a bubble. He’s right and I would also maintain it will be a vacuum because important perspective from organizations and persons affected by a piece of legislation will not be immediately available.
…..What about the public’s opportunity to make their views known through public hearings? The Legislative Rules previously called for a public hearing to be called on any bill at any citizen’s request when it was placed upon a Committee’s agenda prior to the vote being held to move it to the full house. A change in the rules now allows for a public hearing to be called at any time prior to the final vote on the floor. Forty public interest groups have filed letters of protest on the lack of public input.
….Let me be blunt. In theory, the public hearing provided input. In reality, it was a dog and pony show. If time was of the essence in getting a bill out of either Chamber prior to the deadline, then the call for a public hearing might slow the bill down. Did it change the vote of the Committee? In my experience, it did not. Those committee members knew how they were going to vote prior to the public hearing.
…..The Senate Minority Leader revealed that the Democrats will introduce a bill to ban lobbyist from paying for dinner for a legislator. The argument is that this would provide lobbyist with access a private citizen does not have. In legislative vernacular “that dog ain’t gonna hunt” as the Democrats don’t have the votes to get the bill through let alone the power to get it on a Committee agenda.
….What’s a lobbyist to do? Seriously, lobbyists get paid to have contact with Senators and Delegates during the day; watch what they are doing from the galleries when the House and Senate are in session; and wine and dine them at night? And now, how will that happen? Without access to the Capital and treating legislators to dinner and drinks, what does a lobbyist do for the major (and they are major) bucks. (If you doubt that dinner and drinks do not count as work for a lobbyist consider this: In the 1980’s a lobbyist was convicted of tax evasion for not paying his federal income tax. His sentence was house arrest and he was only permitted to leave the house for work. His work during the session, however, not only included his days at the capital, but his nights wining and dining legislators.) .
…..Some of the bills to watch. One will further reduce the senior citizens state income tax. Another will wipe out WV personal income tax. While both sound good, a replacement revenue producer of equal value will need to be found.
……The response to the article on Diane and Dale Matic’s transformation of the former Courier building was overwhelming. Clearly, people began thinking. I myself began thinking about potential for other buildings to be transformed, but for what use. Retail is a far stretch. Backoffice work?
….The Graham Building is one of 10 listed on the National Historic Registry in Hancock County. Others include the Marshall house, Waterford (Mountaineer) Park, the Regas Building. Two, the Murray home in Chester, and the old Courthouse in New Manchester, have been torn down. Unfortunately, Hancock County has none which has been designated a National Landmark. There are only 16 in the entire State of West Virginia and the closest are at Bethany College. When I was at Mountaineer we worked hard to get the old apple barn and the site of the Yellow Creek Massacre designated as a Landmark, but were unable to do so.
…..In a small town, whose role is it to market what that small town has to offer? We know the Business Development Corporation has the responsibility to attract new businesses and to tear down and rehab contaminated property, but what about buildings that need new life?
…. I see in the Property Transfers that Vince Rullo’s building in Chester was sold to Farin Weltner and Jason Powell. The two are the owners/ operators of Green Valley Dairy and more recently Green Valley Country Store in Hookstown.
…..The Dept. of Highways has given the City of New Cumberland a deadline of 30 days to decide if they will let Alt. 4 go ahead without litigation. If not we get Alt. 2 which takes out the old Bowen’s gas station but pretty much just straightens out the curve. How ironic that DOH never met the deadlines for the promised meetings and announcements and now the DOH has set one for New Cumberland. Council is right to ask for documentation and their legal counsel needs to be check out whether the impediments cited are applicable or can be challenged.