The Herald-Dispatch. March 8, 2023.
Editorial: Legislature finally reins in governor’s emergency power
The nearly three-year-long state of emergency in West Virginia related to COVID-19 ended at the beginning of this year. The “emergency” lasted as long as Gov. Jim Justice had federal COVID-related money to spend.
The Legislature finally wised up to the fact that three years is not an emergency, and it took overdue steps to reduce the governor’s power to drag out an “emergency” for as long as he could.
This session, Senate Bill 128 sought to limit the governor’s power over emergencies in several ways. It passed the Senate unanimously — 34-0, with all senators voting — and 87-4 in the 100-member House of Delegates. Rather than signing the bill or vetoing it, Justice allowed SB 128 to become law without his signature, and it took effect on March 4.
SB 128 states that a governor may declare a state of emergency in specified situations, but the emergency expires 60 days after issuance unless the Legislature adopts a concurrent resolution extending it beyond 60 days. The resolution must establish an expiration date for the state of emergency. Either the governor or the Legislature may terminate the state of emergency.
As noted here before, the power state officials had during the state of emergency had already dissipated as residents grew weary of arbitrary decisions that were made — in theory — to protect public health but instead favored some groups over others. You couldn’t attend church, but you could attend political rallies. One store could sell art supplies but another couldn’t.
This past fall, Justice said he delayed ending the state of emergency so state officials could “double, triple check” that the state wouldn’t lose out on any COVID-related federal money that might still be available. What had started as a means of preventing the spread of a disease turned into a power grab over who controls money.
The Legislature could have intervened in 2020 and exerted its power over the federal COVID relief money. But it didn’t. By their inaction, legislators showed they were OK with the governor’s ations.
It took legislators years, but at last they did the right thing. The power to allocate money in the state treasury belongs to the Legislature, not to the governor, even in a “state of emergency” that drags on for nearly three years.
SB 128 sets other limits on states of emergency. The governor cannot use a state of emergency to close churches or other houses of worship or prevent their operation in any manner that is more restrictive than the least restrictive provisions in place for the operation of the most essential facilities of government or private enterprise; suspend or limit the lawful sale or transport of firearms or ammunition; and for the most part interfere with or impair the operation of the news media.
SB 128 reins in powers governors have exerted in situations such as COVID-19 or the 1972 Buffalo Creek flood. It’s a step that should have been taken sooner, but at least now the governor’s ability to act in an arbitrary manner has been limited.
The Intelligencer. March 4, 2023.
Editorial: Get Tax Cut Approved
The stage is set for an exciting and productive final week of West Virginia’s 2023 legislative session, which closes as the clock strikes midnight next Saturday.
There are many bills left to be finalized — lawmakers, don’t neglect a PEIA fix — but one bill stands apart when it comes to whether this session will be remembered as just another 60 days or as a potential transformational session: the tax cut bill.
Last weekend, the state Senate passed out a comppromise tax plan through House Bill 2526. The measure now awaits concurrence from the House before it can get to Gov. Jim Justice’s desk.
The Senate’s bill would reduce the personal income tax rate by 21.25%, while also rebating the personal property tax paid on vehicles, reducing the equipment and inventory tax paid by small business by 50%, and creating a 100% homestead exemption for disabled veterans.
Senate leaders called it “responsible tax reform” that will return $750 million to taxpayers.
“It is something that is sustainable and it is comprehensive, and it gives back in a way it should to all West Virginians and still has economic impact,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, after the committee vote. “There’s been a lot of heart put into it for the people of West Virginia from every side. Every side wants the right thing done. It’s agreeing to what is right.”
The legislation also contains triggers that, if surpluses continue, would reduce the personal income tax rate even more. That’s the right idea — the compromise proposal at a personal income tax rate reduction of 21.25% still will have West Virginia higher than all its neighbors with the exception of Virginia and Maryland. That’s not a recipe for population growth.
The key now, with a week left in the session, is to get this compromise legislation finalized and on the governor’s desk as another step toward a new future for West Virginia.
The Intelligencer. March 8, 2023.
Editorial: Transition: DHHR split must be handled properly
As Gov. Jim Justice signed into law the division of the state Department of Health and Human Resources into three agencies, some in the bureaucracy are right to be nervous ahead of the transition. After all, the intent was to create a better system for allowing the state to take care of its most vulnerable residents — and that may very well happen.
But the possibility exists that what has been created is a Cerberus that will make it even more difficult for ordinary West Virginians to get the services they need while the bureaucracy bloats and serves itself.
“Bottom line is that if we have the same people doing the same work in the same way, we haven’t changed much of anything. That said, the transition period is concerning to me,” said Marissa Sanders, director of the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parent Network, according to a MetroNews report.
Change can be frightening. And the inevitable confusion, different technology (maybe even different buildings), uncertainty, chain-of-command questions — everything most of the rest of us have experienced at some point in our careers — will be a challenge for agencies that had been part of such a governmental monster.
When the law takes effect May 23, DHHR will become the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Health facilities. There is no reason to wait nearly three months for the divisions involved to start planning their transition.
DHHR was broken. Lawmakers did the right thing by implementing a solution. But the task now is to ensure that solution serves its purpose. Each division’s goal must be to navigate the transition in a way that makes them the most efficient, effective, responsible servants of West Virginians they can be. Department heads must take advantage of this time to weed out the waste we know is still hiding in every pocket of state government. Confusion must be combated with planning, communication and transparency.
Change for change’s sake cannot be tolerated. In all things and at all levels this transition must be carried out in a way that simply does better for Mountain State residents.