The purpose of state senators and delegates is to serve as representatives of the people and make legislative decisions that will benefit our community. Unfortunately, it seems the majority of the West Virginia state government has allowed this purpose to slip their minds.
Since the legislative session began on Jan. 13, both the Senate and the House of Delegates have passed many bills between the two legislative branches and sent them to the governor for approval. However, almost none of them have reflected, improved or even addressed any of the major issues facing West Virginians.
Instead, legislature that greatly discriminates against or impedes the health and wellbeing of minority groups is currently being voted on, as well as frivolous bills with no positive value for this state.
West Virginia currently faces many obstacles. The unemployment rate is 6.9 percent as of July 2015, the state deficit is more than $3 million and the Public Employees Insurance Agency, the insurance for most state workers and public school employees, is significantly underfunded. To top things off, the state’s infrastructure is also in desperate need of repair.
However, instead of addressing any of these detrimental issues, both the Senate and the House have shared bills offering no benefit to West Virginians. These include passing the Right-to-Work Act, repealing the prevailing wage for physical laborers and hearing and passing bills like the Religious Freedom Act, which would allow religious business owners to discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals, and the Method Ban, which bans a common method of second-trimester abortions.
The legislature also passed bills allowing people to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, making English the official state language, cutting science standards in primary and secondary education and legalizing the sale of raw milk. Not one of these bills will help West Virginians lead safer, healthier lives; in fact, most of the proposed laws will harm, impede or discriminate against some groups of West Virginians.
Though unemployment rates have been dropping in this state, it has been due, in part, to the boom in gas and oil businesses, as well as an increase in construction jobs. All of these are directly impacted by the passage of right-to-work laws and the repeal of prevailing wage. Right-to-work laws are designed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is an organization that aims to prohibit employers from requiring membership into a union and prohibits unions from collecting labor dues from employees.
This may initially sound fair, but unions and union dues are not necessarily a terrible thing. When I was a child, my father worked at a job that offered a union membership. Once he joined the union, his wages increased along with his benefits, and it included compensation for my family if he was injured or killed. Also, most states without right-to-work laws already have rights set by the Supreme Court so individual employees may opt into or out of unions offered through employers.
The prevailing wage assures laborers, mechanics and other employees working in the construction industry are paid fair hourly wages and that employers provide benefits and overtime pay. With West Virginia being largely a union-based state in which many jobs center around construction and manufacturing, passing right-to-work laws and repealing prevailing wage are not good for our citizens.
These two bills have had the largest impact on West Virginians, as many fear what most states who have passed right-to-work laws, or repealed prevailing wage have seen: Higher unemployment, lower wages and overall a decrease in jobs, which leads to a spike in poverty rates.
Sadly, the bills churned out of the Senate and House did not end with these. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act will soon have its hearing in the House. Despite its title, which sounds as though it would protect all individuals’ religious decisions, other states with similar laws have observed that this bill simply legalizes discrimination.
In most cases, the discrimination is geared toward refusing services to the LGBT community. However, it could also allow pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions, allow exemptions for vaccination and even permit police to not provide security to specific events if they do not agree with its cause. Simply put, RFRA would not protect West Virginians in any way.
Similarly, the Method Ban would make the dilation and evacuation method of abortion illegal during the second trimester, regardless if it is an elective procedure, or needed after a partial miscarriage. This is incredibly dangerous because it is the safest procedure for women during this period of pregnancy. It also borders on unconstitutional since it infringes on Roe v. Wade, the Civil Rights Act and doctor-patient
These are just a few of the unnecessary and damaging pieces of legislation West Virginia representatives have chosen to focus on. What West Virginia citizens have not seen, however, is serious discussion pertaining to the resolution of our state budget deficit
As a resident of this state, I believe my safety, health and right to a fair wage and equal opportunity is a far greater concern than raw milk and guns. It seems as though West Virginia lawmakers do not feel the same, and would allow all of these budget dilemmas to fall right onto the backs of members of the workforce. I say enough is enough. In November, I will remember who voted to raise my insurance premium and to cut wages. To my readers, I hope you do too.