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Statehouse Beat: Legislature's anti-city bias hurts entire state

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When longtime Gazette editor Don Marsh would get frustrated with the Legislature, which was frequently, he would remind us that, in 1950, Charleston and Charlotte, North Carolina, had the same population.

The implicit message was that, while North Carolina law allowed its cities to flourish and grow, West Virginia law stifled and stunted the growth of cities here. That, in turn, stifled and stunted state growth. Today, the population of Charlotte is about 860,000 while West Virginia technically has no cities left, as defined by a minimum population of 50,000.

The West Virginia Legislature has long had an anti-city bias.

As Marsh predicted in 1991, that bias has grown, as large, multi-member House districts have been broken into smaller districts. In 2022, there will be 100 single-member districts. Our current House speaker hails from a town with a population of 489, for goodness sake. (Or, as they used to say on “Hee Haw:” “Salute!”)

The latest anti-city legislation passed the Senate 33-0 Wednesday, with Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, absent (again). It would effectively eliminate municipal annexation by minor boundary adjustment, requiring cities to obtain affidavits from every business and homeowner in the affected area consenting to the annexation (Senate Bill 209). In other words, it’s a referendum that requires a 100 percent vote for passage.

That’s one of multiple anti-city bills in the hopper this session. There are bills to repeal the last vestige of municipal gun safety ordinances, by barring cities from prohibiting firearms at large outdoor gatherings and events, from enacting higher minimum wages or requiring employers to provide more generous benefits than required by state law. Another bill prohibits municipalities from banning use of plastic bags and straws.

Millennials and Gen Y and Gen Z are migrating to vibrant, thriving urban areas. Like Charlotte, for instance.

Young West Virginians have been voting with their feet for years, leaving the state in large numbers for larger, more progressive communities.

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Meanwhile, Gov. Jim Justice called Tuesday for right-wing, rural Virginians, upset that progressive Democrats are running that state, to move to West Virginia.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch noted that the announcement by Justice and evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. “drew laughs from both sides of the aisle” in the Virginia General Assembly:

“What are they doing, a comedy routine?” said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County. “Preposterous,” said Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

Falwell described West Virginia as a refuge from the “barbaric, totalitarian and corrupt Democratic regime that is trampling on individual rights.”

So what exactly is this new evil empire proposing that is purportedly driving Virginians to consider relocating to West Virginia?

According to National Public Radio, the new blue agenda features: A few gun safety measures supported by large majorities of Americans; rollback of obstacles to legal abortions; improving voting access by, among other changes, making Election Day a state holiday; shoring up air and water quality standards; pro-worker measures, including gradually raising the state minimum wage and repealing right-to-work legislation; decriminalization of marijuana; extending anti-discrimination laws to include the LBGTQ community; and establishing a bipartisan redistricting commission.

Oh, and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution after it had languished under GOP rule for more than four decades.

Instead of growing and diversifying our economy and improving the quality of life in West Virginia, Justice is making an appeal to those who can’t deal with the reality that they are quickly becoming a minority in 21st-century America.

I can see the ads now: “Come back to the mid-20th century. Come back to West Virginia.”

As evidence, as the House of Delegates spent two days debating the merits of a bill (rejected Wednesday) to set new parameters for public school calendars, the discussion focused little on whether the changes would provide better educational opportunities for state schoolchildren, but on whether the bill would negatively affect deer hunting season or high school sports schedules.

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Kudos to the small but hardworking staff of the state Ethics Commission, for adding lobbyists’ financial disclosures to the commission’s website (ethics.wv.gov).

While that’s good news for transparency, that’s bad news for me, since, for years, I was the first (and sometimes only) reporter to go through the paper copies of the thrice-annual reports.

Also, kudos to House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, for changing House policy in light of the dismissal of battery charges against Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion.

Effective immediately, doorkeepers at the rear entrance to House chambers no longer are directed to hold chamber doors closed during the floor session’s morning prayer and Pledge of Allegiance but are to admit members, asking them to remain in the rear vestibule until the praying and pledging is completed.

Had the policy been in place last year, the House could have avoided a lot of nonsense. (Of course, they also could have avoided it by not permitting hate groups to participate in GOP Day events outside of chambers.)

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220

or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

Funerals for Thursday, July 2, 2020

Adkins, Anne - 6 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Morton, Freda - 11 a.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Nunn, Terry - 7 p.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Olive, Rex - 2 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Reynolds, George - 2 p.m., Dodd & Reed Funeral Home, Webster Springs.

Rhodes, Ella - 4 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Rose, Carol - 10 a.m., Cunningham Memorial Park, St. Albans.

Waldron, Helen - 1 p.m., Forks of Coal Cemetery, Alum Creek.

Wibberg, David - 11 a.m., St. Anthony Catholic Church, Charleston.