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Statehouse Beat: WV legislators have finally crafted the perfect bill

It only took 31 sessions, but like the tune about writing the perfect country song, I think I’ve finally come across a perfect bill, a bill that lets legislators energize their base voters and demonize their opponents, while having absolutely no practical effect.

I’m talking about the “born alive” abortion bill that passed the House of Delegates last week. Patterned on similar bills around the country, the bill requires abortion providers to provide medical care in the almost impossibly unlikely event that an abortion results in a live birth.

As Delegate Sammi Brown, D-Jefferson, succinctly noted, since the only abortion provider in the state does not perform abortions after 16 weeks, the requirement to resuscitate “born alive” fetuses is nonsensical, since 16-week-old fetuses do not have functioning respiratory systems.

The reason I say this is a perfect bill is that, in the past, when there were moderate Republicans in the Legislature (Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, may be the last of that breed), they often talked off-the-record about their mixed emotions on having to vote for anti-abortion bills, saying that while the vote is a political necessity, they were troubled by having the state impose itself in decisions that should be made solely by the woman, her significant other and her physician.

With this bill, legislators get all the benefits of an anti-abortion bill with none of the qualms of the state interfering in women’s private lives.

It also allows anti-abortion advocates to perpetuate several fallacies — that late-term elective abortions are commonplace; that pro-choice advocates tolerate everything up to and possibly including infanticide; that abortions are such haphazard procedures that live births frequently result; and that a fetus in the early stages of development and long before viability is still, as defined in the bill, a child.

Given the Legislature’s history of passing draconian anti-abortion measures, a bill that has no practical effect on women seeking abortions or on health care providers is something of a win-win.

•••

Barely 10 days into the session, and the Legislature already has all three legs of the GOP stool in place: anti-abortion (see previous item), anti-LGBTQ (Mitch Carmichael delivered the final dagger to legislation to expand the state Fairness Act with his statement Tuesday opposing the bill on religious grounds), and pro-gun, as the Senate Government Organization Committee advanced legislation to roll back another municipal gun safety measure by revoking the ability of cities to prohibit deadly weapons at outdoor events such as Live on the Levee or Foam at the Dome.

Evidently, just as women are incapable of making rational decisions regarding their reproductive health, city officials are incapable of making rational decisions regarding public safety for their constituents at events that put large numbers of people in close proximity.

Normally calm and reserved, Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, who has become so frustrated with the nonsense at the Capitol that he is not seeking reelection, went off during debate on the gun bill:

“I just don’t understand why we continue to do these things. We want to put guns on college campuses. We want to put guns all over city property. We want to hang onto our ability to discriminate against people who are different than us. We want to shun any kind of renewable energy. Yet we wonder why people are flocking out of West Virginia at a rate that’s much higher than it’s been in decades ... We continue to do these things and wonder why this is happening.”

Palumbo’s point is well taken, that there’s no question the key to expanding the state economy is to have growing, thriving municipalities.

It’s no coincidence the two growth areas of the state, the North Central and Eastern Panhandle areas, are in close proximity to major cities.

That, however, poses a quandary for Republicans, since states with thriving, growing municipalities, like our neighbors in Virginia, tend to vote Blue. If Republicans were to put in place measures like Palumbo wants to grow our municipalities, and to attract large numbers of educated young people to either remain in or move to the state, they would be assuring their own political demise.

•••

It’s worth pointing out the know-nothingism displayed during discussion of both the anti-abortion and pro-gun bills.

Were any health care professionals consulted on the live birth abortion bill? No.

Were any law enforcement officers consulted on the municipal gun safety repeal bill? No.

Likewise, although the membership of the House Health and Human Resources Committee includes two physicians and one registered nurse, its chairman is a human resources manager (well, it is Health AND Human Resources), and its vice chairman is a pest control technician.

Similarly, the House and Senate Education Committees purposely are not chaired by professional educators. The House Education chairman, Joe Ellington, ironically, is a physician, and the Senate Education chairwoman, Patricia Rucker, is a homemaker.

It’s no accident that persons lacking expertise in the particular fields are put in charge of these committees — it makes it much easier to advance contradictory policy like charter schools or live birth abortion bills with lay people at the helm.

•••

Speaking of Virginia, on the same day that West Virginia officials announced they had scraped together $3 million to continue MARC commuter rail service in the Eastern Panhandle for another year, Virginia was announcing a $3.7 billion — with a “B” — investment in passenger rail service.

Part of that investment could have implications for West Virginia, with Virginia buying the Buckingham Branch Railroad in order to establish east-west train routes across the state.

(If you’ve ridden the Cardinal, you’ve likely been on the Buckingham Branch — it’s that rough stretch of track between Clifton Forge and Charlottesville.)

Upgrading the Buckingham Branch, much of which is single track, would eliminate a major bottleneck to having daily Cardinal service.

In fact, prior to the announcement, Amtrak had been talking about having earlier departure times for westbound Cardinal 51 so the two trains would pass on CSX tracks west of Clifton Forge rather than on the Buckingham Branch (usually outside of Crozet).

One downside of that would be that day trips from here to White Sulphur Springs or Clifton Forge would no longer be feasible.

My Amtrak sources tell me that Gov. Jim Justice has already made his objections to that proposal known, since a goodly number of people make day trips by train to The Greenbrier from Charleston, Huntington and Ashland, Kentucky.

•••

Speaking of Justice, word is Larry Puccio is headed for expulsion from the state Democratic Executive Committee after the latest campaign financial disclosures revealed he gave a maximum $2,800 contribution to Republican Justice’s reelection campaign.

(Puccio was a consultant to Justice’s 2016 gubernatorial campaign during Justice’s brief tenure as a Democrat, and is a long-time lobbyist for The Greenbrier resort.)

Meanwhile, Puccio (with lobbyist Angel Moore) is hosting a reception, dinner and investment presentation at Edgewood County Club on Tuesday for Harvest Medical Care, a medical cannabis enterprise.

•••

Finally, again speaking of Justice, on the occasion of his filing for reelection, the Democratic Governors Association put out a release noting the latest edition of the Morning Consult approval poll ranks Justice as the eighth-most unpopular governor in the U.S., and as the most unpopular incumbent up for reelection in 2020.

(In December, 43 percent of voters polled approved of Justice’s job performance, while 44 percent disapproved. That’s actually an improvement from August, when Justice’s numbers were 42 percent approval and 47 percent disapproval, but well down from the 58 percent approval, 24 percent disapproval when he took office in January 2017.)

The DGA release states: “Justice should enjoy his dead-last ranking while it lasts — he won’t be an incumbent for much longer.”

Of course, the DGA used to have a much different take on Justice — like this release from general election night 2016:

“Jim Justice won this election because voters saw a leader capable of growing the state’s economy and fighting for West Virginia workers. As governor, Justice brings a proven track record of creating jobs, and a vision to put more West Virginians back to work.”

Of course, a lot of relationships sour over 38 months.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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Funerals for Sunday, February 16, 2020

Atkins, Linda - 3 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Call, James - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Hankins, Sara - 1 p.m., McGhee-Handley Funeral Home, West Hamlin.

Hensley, Joshua - 2 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Jackson, Jeffrey - 6 p.m., Lantz Funeral Home, Buckeye.

Jobe, Joe - 2:30 p.m., Sunset Memorial Park Mausoleum Chapel, South Charleston.

Johnson, Freda - 2 p.m., Kanawha Valley Memorial Gardens, Glasgow.

Ratcliff, James - 3 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.