Guest Commentary: Update From the 85th Legislature (4/5/21)

In the week preceding Good Friday and Easter, I wish I could report that the Legislative session was full of positive overtones.

However, even though most legislators had our minds affixed on remembering the sacrifice and resurrection of our risen Lord and Savior, many of us were nevertheless subjected to even more indirect allegations of bigotry, racism, sexism, and homophobia by other legislators simply due to the legislation we sponsored, endorsed, or voted for.

By keeping our eyes upon the goals before us, we were able to be very productive despite the attacks. While I liked some, there were other bills I did not like.

H.B. 3300: This is the lower chamber’s plan for permitting earners to keep their personal earnings at home and in their local communities where it is needed most. This plan is designed to phase out the personal income tax (PIT) over time and would take at least a decade to permanently eliminate the PIT but only if we can hold the line on state spending. Both the senate and the governor are floating two competing plans and time will tell whether we will get some combination of all three, or not. I will add that a House Democrat offered an amendment that would have added recreational pot to the mix had we not voted it down. Unfortunately, I believe it is only a matter of time that the Feds make recreational pot legal. Then we will have yet another layer of a drug problem to contend with in addition to alcohol, opioids, and heroin addiction.

S.B. 275: If signed into law, it will create an intermediate appellate court. I must admit that it was with great caution that I voted for this bill. I believe it will preserve and facilitate due process, catch West Virginia up with the other 42 states in the country that have an intermediate court, subdue the “good-ole-boy” approach to justice at the circuit court level, and potentially attract much-needed businesses to the state. However, I personally believe that the legislature will be re-addressing the planned court’s composition in a few years when we realize that we will have to add three to five more judges to the mix to increase efficiency. I hope I am wrong. As is, this new court would cost approximately two million dollars annually.

H.B. 2017: Rewriting our WV Criminal Code is a long overdue and needed action. If passed, this bill will modernize and add the element of fairness into our criminal sentencing actions. Currently, there is little flexibility within our justice system when it comes to dealing out punishments to criminals. Oftentimes this may include a one-size-fits-all approach. As a result, our jails and prisons become filled with non-violent offenders. This costs taxpayers approximately $200(+/-) per day to house these low-level criminals. This law would create a more structured sentencing model which focuses on letting the punishment fit the crime, so to speak. I supported this bill with the hopes that violent offenders are kept off our streets and local judges have an upgraded code by which to ascertain the best sentencing approaches depending upon the circumstances.

H.B. 2927: If passed into law, this bill would modify campaign finance laws to add caregiving expenses. Yet again I found myself voting against my own party leadership with my “NO” vote on this bill. I did so not because I desire to be labeled as a “cold-hearted Republican who doesn’t care about children or the elderly,” but rather, because this is a foot in the door for future campaign finance fraud. In essence, this law will neuter the purpose we have campaign finance laws to begin with. In my opinion, I believe this will open the door for some politicians to use a gray area to line their own pockets with campaign funds. Again, I hope I am wrong.

H.B. 3089: This bill would make utility workers “essential employees” during a state of emergency. As stated, it would ensure that any state official could not forbid utility workers from serving society by maintaining our grid infrastructure during a declared emergency. I voted “YES”.

H.B. 2022: The fiscal year budget. While I did not particularly think it has enough cuts in spending, it did cut the overall budget by just under 2%. Since that is better than nothing, and since there are no increased taxes, I did support this budget. Nevertheless, I personally believe there is far more room across many state agencies to find more wasteful spending and pork to cut.

I humbly ask for your prayers for wisdom and discernment for all state leadership as we navigate the final days for the 85th Legislature and strive to make your voice heard.

Get your legislative updates and do your own research by going to wvlegislature.gov and clicking on BILL STATUS.

Godspeed!

Todd Longanacre
Delegate, 42nd District, WV House
Todd.longanacre@wvhouse.gov

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