This week’s special session of the West Virginia Legislature paints a bleak picture for the future of a state that has been losing population for 70 years, is economically depressed and ranks among the worst in the country for infrastructure, economic development, education, health and quality of life.
Gov. Jim Justice had been saying for weeks he’d call special session on updating the state’s abortion laws, because the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade left West Virginia with an abortion ban from the 19th century.
Instead, he called a session with only one item on the agenda: Justice’s proposal to cut the state’s income tax, a plan that would help the wealthy by shifting more of the burden to the middle class and poor while also likely blowing a hole in the budget.
It appeared Justice hadn’t discussed his plans with legislative leadership, catching them a bit by surprise. Although the House of Delegates and Senate are controlled by Republican supermajorities, legislators haven’t seen eye to eye with their Republican governor on much. When Justice pushed his income tax proposal during the 2021 regular session, the House buried it in an unprecedented 100-0 vote.
During meetings Monday, it seemed Justice’s plan was again not well received. Then, that afternoon, Justice added the abortion issue to the special session, catching many legislators completely flat-footed. It’s not that Justice shouldn’t have called a special session on the issue, but giving lawmakers five minutes to review legislation they’re seeing for the first time before going into committee meetings to decide the fate of abortion in West Virginia was completely reckless.
In a House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday morning, Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, suggested that Justice added the abortion issue because his tax cut wasn’t gaining any traction. Justice later denied that it was an offering to right-wing legislators eager to outlaw abortion so they’d support his tax cut. Perhaps it wasn’t a trade but retaliation to put legislators on the spot. That sounds monstrous, given the issue, but Justice has shown on multiple occasions that he can be unbelievably petty.
Then again, given Justice’s near total disinterest in and disrespect for the responsibilities of his elected office, he might simply have added abortion to the special session because the topic flickered for a brief instance in his easily distracted mind.
So, legislators are now working on an income tax cut and a hasty abortion ban, the latter of which keeps aspects of the law more than a century old that makes receiving or providing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, with no exceptions for sexual assault or incest.
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As of this writing, the Legislature hadn’t banned contraception, nor could a mother be criminally charged for a miscarriage, unlike a few other states enacting abortion bans.
Meanwhile, during a Joint Education Committee meeting Monday, Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, out of nowhere, asked state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch what to do about cross-dressing teachers. Azinger claimed there was such an individual somewhere in his district. The question was entirely off-topic and just plain weird, although Burch tried to supply an answer before Azinger cut him off to basically ask it again.
Azinger, who was around the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection — although there’s no evidence he entered the building — went on to ask meaningless questions about critical race theory and Marxism, eventually describing a recent trolling battle he’d had on Facebook before a point of order was finally called.
After the meeting, Azinger, who has tried numerous times to strike down municipal laws that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, railed against cross-dressers teaching in schools. It’s hard to know if this is even a real issue that has constituents concerned, but it’s on the mind of a state senator. (For the record, government employees — that includes public school teachers — cannot be discriminated against because of gender identity, according to a 2020 ruling from the same Supreme Court that just struck down Roe.)
“I think that’s pretty self-evident that, you know, somebody that doesn’t dress according to their own biological sex, that there’s some kind of spiritual or mental problem there,” he said.
Regarding the latter portion of that quote, perhaps Azinger should take that pointed finger and rotate it 180 degrees.
In any event, this is the state of affairs in West Virginia governance. Women’s health laws written by men that don’t consider women or their health and draw inspiration from a time when child labor was legal. A governor (who also coaches high school basketball and showed his dog’s rear end to his “critics” during a State of the State address at the Capitol) pushing a dodgy tax plan. Elected officials obsessed with persecuting the LGBTQ community and spending a lot of their time arguing on Facebook.
It’s not hard to see why West Virginia still bleeds population and ranks at or near dead last in the United States in anything that matters. That doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.