The scourge of abandoned buildings: Help arrives for West Virginia’s communities

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New future for abandoned buildings

Photo by Mark Plummer/FlickrCC

Nine communities in West Virginia will receive expert help addressing the issue of abandoned and dilapidated buildings in their main streets, business districts and neighborhoods courtesy of the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center at West Virginia University.

The communities of Moundsville, Parsons, Hamlin, Thomas, Whitesville, Terra Alta, Glenville, Charleston (West Side Main Street) and Morgantown will receive technical assistance grants, valued at $10,000 each, providing technical assistance and expertise to identify, research, and prioritize their abandoned buildings and create redevelopment plans to turn problem properties into community resources.

“Everyone will have a voice at the table because everyone is being impacted by these abandoned and dilapidated properties.”

The grants are part of the Brownfield Assistance Center’s BAD (Brownfields, Abandoned, Dilapidated) Buildings Program.

According to Luke Elser, BAD Buildings Program Manager at WVU, each community will now examine a variety of potential solutions and determine which ones will actually work in their setting.

“All of the work will be done in collaboration between local elected officials and community volunteers – everyone will have a voice at the table because everyone is being impacted by these abandoned and dilapidated properties,” Elser says.

Funding for the BAD Buildings Program is being provided by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation through the West Virginia University Foundation.

For more information about the BAD Buildings Program or the Northern WV Brownfield Assistance Center, visit www.wvbrownfields.org, or contact Luke Elser, 
Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center, 
304-293-6990, luke.elser@mail.wvu.edu.

The Washington Post: Can rural America be saved? A new national challenge tries to see…

Can rural America be saved?

Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post.

Four out of five Americans inhabit urban areas on a fraction of this country’s land, while rural residents continue to decline as a percentage of the population. As one America shrinks, the other overflows; both are searching for solutions.

A new partnership between Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the American Farm Bureau Federation aims to harness the creativity of small-business owners to build stronger rural communities.

Their Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, billed as the first national competition of its kind, received more than 200 applications last summer from 36 states. If you seed small businesses attuned to local needs, the project’s leaders believe, rural economies will bounce back.

Full story at www.washingtonpost.com

Charleston Daily Mail: Support builds to re-fund Appalachian Regional Commission

What is the ARC?Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has joined a bipartisan group of legislators to introduce a bill that would reauthorize the Appalachian Regional Commission for five more years.

The ARC, which has been around for 50 years, is a regional economic development authority that acts as a partnership between federal, state and local governments.

Today, 13 states make up the commission. West Virginia is the only state that lies entirely within the commission, which stretches from New York to Mississippi.

The agency has distributed nearly $4 billion to important projects, including nearly $5.2 million to West Virginia last year.

The legislation introduced by Capito and Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Ben Cardin D-Md., would fund the program at $100 million over the next five years, including $10 million annually to improve rural Internet services.

President Lyndon Johnson established the Appalachian Regional Commission in 1965. Since then, the program has created thousands of jobs, expanded access to health care, improved transportation and infrastructure and provided assistance to new businesses across the 13-state region.

All told, the agency has distributed nearly $4 billion to important projects, including nearly $5.2 million to West Virginia last year.

Last month the program released a report analyzing the region’s socioeconomic trends over the past 50 years. Statistics show the program has worked.

Full story at www.charlestondailymail.com.

WV Public Broadcasting: Wheeling’s local resurgence attracts support from federal agency

Tour Wheeling

Photo courtesy Glynis Board/WVPB

Momentum continues to mount behind local food and local economic development efforts in the Northern panhandle.

Wheeling was one of the top picks in a national Local Foods, Local Places competition. As a result, local organizations are receiving technical assistance from multiple state and federal agencies to help capitalize on the growing demand for local foods.

The Environmental Protection Agency initiated the national Local Food, Local Places program. The idea is to bring federal, regional, and state agencies together to help find and support existing local food and economic development efforts.

Read the full story at wvpublic.org

$3,500 Grants Available For WV Local Food Businesses

Money to support food hubs!The West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition has announced up to $3,500 in funding is available for organizations or individuals that aggregate local food.

As single points of sale for multiple local products, “food hubs,” are an important part of a strong local food economy because they allow large purchasers such as restaurants or institutions to get all their local food through one entity.

The grants are available state-wide, and the deadline is May 8. The application form and all the details are at wvfoodandfarm.org.

To help interested parties through the application process, the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition will host a day long meeting in Philippi, W.Va., on April 22.

To RSVP for the event, fill out this form and submit by April 14.

For more information about the grant, and the importance of food hubs in West Virginia, visit the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition’s website.

Questions can be directed to Megan Smith at msmith@wvfoodandfarm.org.

Times West Virginian: Economic profile to be used to market Fairmont region

Beautiful Fairmont!FAIRMONT — Members of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) have received an update on an economic profile designed to highlight key aspects of the area.

Kate Greene, the executive director of Main Street Fairmont, provided the update during Tuesday’s URA meeting.

The economic profile is something the URA has partnered with Main Street Fairmont to create. It will be a summary of the economic standing in this area.

“It’s a really basic snapshot of the economic indicators in our region,” Greene said. “Initially it’s a baseline to look at Fairmont within this larger region. We’re part of Region 6 in the state of West Virginia. Now the next phase will be to narrow it down to the tri-county picture.”

When the profile is complete, it will be used to market the region and hopefully bring in more business.

Full story at www.timeswv.com

The fake campaign for real: ‘Social Media Senator’ to hold WV politicians accountable to their Facebook feeds

Good for Good. Fake campaign, real issues.The world is changing, and fast.

The ways in which we communicate with each other are rapidly evolving. This has an impact on how we talk to friends, family, colleagues, and even elected officials. It also has an impact on where those conversations happen.

These days, more and more of those conversations happen online through social media – particularly among younger voters.

We believe that in order to be up-to-date and fully responsive to what the electorate is saying and what it believes, our elected officials need to be tapped in to where those conversations are happening. But how are they staying aware of those conversations? Who is facilitating community dialogue with representatives online? And how are we representing our online selves to our representatives?

It’s a gray space that most of us are learning to navigate as we walk through it, for better or worse.

“There is no official representation for the ‘land’ of Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – but there needs to be. It’s the new town square. By the numbers, Facebook is the second largest country on Earth.”

With these thoughts in mind, we were interested to hear this week about a brand new candidacy campaign of Charleston’s own Crystal Good. She’s running to be the “Social Media Senator for the Digital District of West Virginia.”

No, it’s not actually a real seat. But it’s a pretty interesting campaign.

Crystal, a well-known Appalachian poet, entrepreneur, and social media personality, is using her campaign to bring attention to an important political issue: how can we use tools like social media to make it easier for busy, working West Virginians to provide ideas, feedback and opinions about policy issues, and to have a real impact on the decision-making process?

“There is no official representation for the ‘land’ of Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – but there needs to be,” Crystal says. “It’s the new town square, a virtual common ground. By the numbers, Facebook is the second largest country on Earth.”

World's coolest campaign poster.Crystal’s goal is to make it easier for West Virginians to get involved in politics. And she says now is the perfect time to launch the campaign, “at the tail end of a legislative session that left many citizens feeling frustrated and disengaged.”

“It’s not technically a ‘real’ campaign, but I’m a real person, and I think real people should have a voice,” she says. “Being a good citizen shouldn’t be a full time job. Everyday people don’t have time to go down to the Capitol and lobby their representatives. But anyone can post their opinion on Facebook, anytime, from anywhere – we know, because they’re already doing it!”

The campaign also hopes to introduce fresh ideas into the political process.

“As citizens, we can only say yes or no, for or against, pro or anti. There’s no place to introduce new ideas to the conversation. I want to give people a place to share new, creative solutions to West Virginia’s problems, where they know that their voices will be heard.”

“As citizens, we can only say yes or no, for or against, pro or anti. There’s no place to introduce new ideas to the conversation. I want to give people a place to share new, creative solutions to West Virginia’s problems, where they know that their voices will be heard.”

Crystal says she intends to make good on her campaign promises by taking the voices of the people to high-profile leaders like Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and Senators Joe Manchin and Shelly Moore Capito.

“I want to show people how the political process works, in a completely transparent way. I will create an online platform for people to share their opinions, and then share the aggregate of those opinions with the folks making the decisions. It will all be posted online – every meeting I have with an elected official, what I say, what they choose to do about it.”

In order to “win” the election, Good needs supporters from all 55 counties, and native West Virginians currently living outside the state, to cast their “vote” by liking the campaign’s Facebook page and adding their name to the petition. The results of the election will be announced Thursday, April 2.

You can reach the campaign at goodforgoodwv@gmail.com.

Stephanie Tyree

The Legislative session is finished. Time now to start organizing for 2016.

Time to get organized!

The end of the legislative session is like the beginning of the new year for those of us who work in policy. On March 14, 2015 ended. On March 15, we started thinking about what we are going to accomplish in 2016.

Now is the time for you to start thinking about what are the issues you care about that didn’t get solved this year, what things you have noticed are working in other states that you’d love to see West Virginia try, and what bright ideas you want to bring to the Legislature!

All that work starts NOW. Not in the fall. Not next January. Now.

So let’s get started!

We’ve got a short list of things that you can do to share your suggestions and stay involved over the coming months. If you have ideas, suggestions or general rumblings of genius that you could use some help in refining towards a policy proposal call or email us! (681-404-6053; s.tyree@wvhub.org)

Here’s what you can do:

1. Share with the Legislative Tech staff what they can do to improve the website and give you better access to the activity happening during the legislative session.

Aaron Allred, Legislative Manager and Legislative Auditor, is seeking suggestions on improvements for the website and live audio feed. We have some ideas:

  • Post committee minutes after the meetings.
  • Post all committee agendas at least 2 days prior to the meetings before Crossover Day and at least 24 hours prior to the meetings after Crossover Day).
  • Provide live video feed of all public hearings and clearly indicate where those will be played on the front page of the website.
  • Move from audio and video streaming to recording. Save audio and video recordings of committee meetings and floor sessions for at least a week and provide those on the website to watch after the meetings/sessions have ended.
  • Create more consistency in committee meeting schedule updates on the committee pages; Bulletin Board and Streaming Audio page schedule. Often the schedules do not match up and are not consistent across these webpages.
  • Improve sound quality on House floor session video feed (much quieter than the Senate floor session video feed).
  • Allow for remote participation in public hearings, or possibly hold some public hearings as online forums so people can participate from across the state.

What do you think could be done to improve the website? Email Mr. Allred at aaron.allred@wvlegislature.gov.

2. Hook up with The Hub and learn about work happening across the state that you can plug into!

The Hub is hosting its first Hubapalooza on April 30th of this year. This day-long event will bring together members of the community development network in West Virginia. Are you passionate about improving your community? Are you working to build a better community in some form? Would you like to be?

Join us on April 30th in Summersville to take the next step with us towards growing community development in West Virginia. Learn more and register at bit.ly/Hubapalooza2015

3. Engage in one of the many opportunities around the state available to help your community plan and implement improvement projects.

Improving policy is a key part of improving West Virginia communities, but it is only one part. Getting involved in your community and working to build solutions to the problems you face is part of your policy work. There are a number of resources available to West Virginia communities who want to start the work. What’s Next, West Virginia provides communities with the resources to get the conversation started. The WV Development Office’s On Trac and Main Street programs support sustained local development – you might have one of these programs in your community and not even know it. Find out if you do and join up to help them out if you can.

Are you passionate about an issue or want to help your community but aren’t sure where to start?

Are you passionate about an issue or want to help your community but aren’t sure where to start? Call us at The Hub and we’ll help you figure out what work is happening around you, what resources are available and what tools you can use to get good work started.

4. Participate in our Regional Policy Workshops this summer.

Each summer the Hub hosts Regional Policy Workshops across the state in partnership with the Our Children, Our Future Campaign to End Child Poverty. These workshops provide tons of training on how policy making works and how you can get involved as a regular citizen. This year we’re even looking to add a social media training, for those of you who are active online but can’t make it to the Capitol. There is real political space through social media that we should all make use of!

We also dive deeply into a number of policy issues. If you have issues you want to work on during next year’s session and would like the support of a statewide network that is focused on getting policy passed, this is the place to bring your idea to.

We meet across the state, generally in late July and early August. Watch your email for a Save the Date for these workshops in the next few weeks. And keep in touch with us if you are interested in participating in them!

5. Finally, be thinking!

Keep an eye on what troubles your community is facing. What solutions are people suggesting that you aren’t seeing be implemented?

Don’t worry about getting us involved if you know the issues, the solutions and key players. Reach out to your legislators this summer and start talking with them about the problems and your proposals. Work with them to build a solution together.

And if things get confusing, overwhelming or seem to stall call or email us!

Stephanie Tyree

How It Happened – the story behind WV food and farm victories

Food, glorious food!

All photos by WVFFC

The Legislature passed both of the local foods bills that the WV Food and Farm Coalition and the WV Farmers Market Association worked on this year, with support provided by The Hub. Both of those bills served as useful examples of advocacy efforts that can lead to success. And they are especially interesting because different methods were used to get each bill passed!

We took away some major lessons about successful advocacy from each of these efforts this year:

  1. Have a strong coalition that works well together and is willing to do the hard grunt work of taking a bill from an idea to a law.
  2. Having a full-time lobbyists helps! It’s not mandatory but you certainly need someone who can be in Charleston on a regular basis and working the Capitol hallways for many hours multiple times a week to shepherd a bill along and help it avoid pitfalls.
  3. None of this can happen if you don’t have a passionate elected advocate on your side. Identify that advocate early and work closely with him or her to achieve success.

 

Cooperative Bill Shows the Importance of Collaboration

The cooperative business bill (SB 352) passed because a unique and powerful coalition formed and collaborated successfully on getting the bill through the session.

The WV Food and Farm Coalition (WVFFC) had identified the establishment of cooperative local food businesses as a priority for the coming year in the spring of 2014. A number of businesses and food hubs around the state were interested in mimicking similar businesses in other states and forming as a cooperative. The only problem was – West Virginia didn’t allow for businesses to structure themselves as cooperatives!

WVFFC did a significant amount of research and base-building to learn about cooperatives, understand the law surrounding them and begin to build a campaign to pass a co-op law.

WVFFC did a significant amount of research and base-building work over the next six months to learn about cooperatives, understand the law surrounding them and begin to build a campaign to pass a co-op law. They worked with the House Minority Leader’s office (both while he was Speaker and after the election) to begin to craft language that would allow for the creation of co-ops in West Virginia.

WVFFC was focused on passing a comprehensive statute to create multi-stakeholder cooperatives, allowing for any type of business to form as a cooperative. While there was no opposition that could be identified prior to the session to this idea, it did not gain significant traction and WVFFC struggled to find a legislator who was passionate enough about the idea to take the lead on it – particularly after the election. It looked like the bill would have to wait until next year, and WVFFC began to build a 15 month advocacy plan with the intention of getting the bill passed in the 2016 session.

Food-bills3Around the time WVFFC stepped back to look at a longer vision for passage, the WV Citizens Action Group (CAG) began to consider cooperative businesses as a model that might provide a solution for recycling challenges across the state. CAG proposed a more limited cooperative business introduction, amending the agriculture code to expand producer cooperatives (currently allowed but limited specifically to food growers) to include all businesses that relate to foods and beverages, arts and crafts, woodworking and recycling, composting and repurposing of materials. It was a hodge-podge of activities that brought together a coalition of support, including the WV Chamber of Commerce.

With the Chamber, CAG and WVFFC working together, they were able to move the expanded cooperative business bill through the Senate and through the House – achieving final passage on Friday the 13th. Without the full-time lobbying of CAG, this bill would not have passed. It had to go through multiple amendments and revisions to address concerns that legislators raised and it seemed dead at least a couple of times before reviving and moving on. This bill taught us that powerful collaborations are important and, often, full-time lobbyists are key to keeping a tough bill from dying.

 

Farmers Market Bill Shows the Importance of Stakeholder Engagement

The WV Farmers Market Association (WVFMA) concentrated on a single bill this year. SB 304 created a single statewide permitting process for farmers market vendors, improving and clarifying the permitting process for these vendors. While WVFMA considered this a clear and simple bill, it did not easily sail through the Legislature for passage – it took hard work to get it done this year.

WVFMA started over two years ago on this bill, identifying the problem of permitting for vendors by surveying farmers markets across the state and talking to vendors who were getting pushed out of markets because of onerous permitting processes. The WVFMA worked with the Senate in the 2014 session to get a study resolution passed to help the Legislature more closely examine the topic and draft a bill to address it.

WVFMA started over two years ago on this bill, identifying the problem of permitting for vendors by surveying farmers markets across the state and talking to vendors who were getting pushed out of markets because of onerous permitting processes.

The organization also began to meet with the WV Department of Agriculture and the WV Department of Health & Human Resources (DHHR) to talk about the challenges and identify how each agency related to the problem – and what solutions they would each be supportive of. Originally this led to the creation of a guidance memo by the DHHR on farmers market permitting but the problem still persisted because of local health department autonomy.

Participating in the study resolution process required a significant amount of time from the WVFMA. On multiple occasions, the organization brought stakeholders to speak to the Joint Agriculture Committee about this issue and other local foods issues during the 2014 interim sessions. WVFMA also worked closely with Senator Ron Miller (Greenbrier Co.) and the Agriculture Committee staff to begin drafting language to create a statewide permit.

While the organization brought expertise and local voices to the drafting process, it also worked hard to keep stakeholders (the affected vendors) deeply involved and up-to-date on each part of the process. This was in part to make sure they stayed engaged and, in larger part, to make sure that we stayed on the right track with our drafting. We wanted to make sure we crafted a solution that would really work for people on the ground.

The Joint Agriculture Committee introduced an interim bill on farmers market vendor permits during the January interim session and passed it out of committee with recommendation to the full House and Senate that it pass during the 2015 session. The Committee chairmen are normally lead sponsors on interim committee bills and help make sure those bills get through during the session.

This year was significantly different though because of the flip in leadership. Suddenly the committee Food-bills2chairmen that the WVFMA had been working closely with (Senator Miller and Delegates Mike Manypenny and David Walker) were no longer in power. Delegates Manypenny and Walker had both lost their elections and weren’t even going to be at the 2015 session! While there was support from the new majority party for the farmers market billl, there was not the same level of leadership and drive to move the bill forward that had been built with the Democrat chairmen. The WVFMA had to scramble to help the incoming chairmen prioritize this bill and make sure it moved forward.

Both new Agriculture Committee Chairmen, Senator Daniel Hall (Wyoming Co.) and Delegate Allen Evans (Grant Co.), were supportive and provided assistance in helping move the bill forward in the session. The WVFMA was very appreciative of their leadership on this issue. Additional support and significant help for the bill was provided by Delegate Larry Faircloth (Berkeley Co.), who was extremely familiar with the farmers markets in his district and understood the importance of this legislation. The WVFMA was also deeply appreciative of the leadership and support that Senator Miller and Senator Bob Williams (Taylor Co.) provided to move this bill forward.

Our relationships with these legislators were critical to passing this bill. Without their leadership and support, the farmers market bill would not have made it beyond introduction, and would have died a number of times during the session when challenges arose.

An additional driver for this bill were the stakeholders that the WVFMA had engaged and organized over the previous two year process. Farmers Market Association members and leaders called their legislators, up to the final week of the session, letting them know how important this bill was to them personally and to their businesses. They even called when a bad amendment was added to the bill, and demanded it be removed or that the bill be killed. With their help we were able to remove the amendment, save the bill and help push it to passage on Friday the 13th.

While the cooperative business bill showed the importance of a strong collaboration of advocacy groups working together to pass a bill, the farmers market bill demonstrated how important stakeholder engagement and a few key legislative leaders can be to getting a bill passed.

The Hub aims to serve as the conduit to help strengthen those connections between stakeholders and legislative leaders. We’re proud of our successes on these two bills this year and are looking forward to new battles next year. What are the issues you or your group are thinking about for next year? What are the problems that we need policy solutions to? Share your ideas in the comments!

Stephanie Tyree

The Good and the Bad – 2015 Session a Mixed Bag at WV Legislature

The debate.

Photo by WV Legislature Photography/Perry Bennett

Depending on your perspective, you might have considered this year’s Legislature a success – a real, significant step in a positive direction – or you might have considered it a disaster. Here at The Hub, we don’t find ourselves in either camp entirely. It was, so to speak, a mixed bag.

Some things we liked

We were impressed that the new leadership had clearly identified priority policies. They came into the session prepared with a list of about a dozen bills they intended to pass this year. Not everything made it through that they wanted, and that was fine. But it is good practice for the leadership to be organized enough to know what they are moving forward as a body during the session.

Whether you agree with their policy priorities or not, having a coordinated party strategy for passing a slate of bills during the session helps to improve the legislative process.

Whether you agree with their policy priorities or not, having a coordinated party strategy for passing a slate of bills during the session helps to improve the legislative process and certainly put the session on a faster pace of activity early in the 60 days. It also seemed to push everyone else to pick up their pace and not waste the first 30 days of the session.

We also liked how seriously many of the new and returning legislators took their responsibilities as elected leaders to critically consider legislation before passing it. Watching dozens of floor session debates showed us that there is a robust culture of serious and, sometimes, scholarly debate that happens in both chambers.

Generally the House floor debates were much more lively and entertaining than the Senate debates. While the conversations often got heated, they generally stayed respectful. We’re your average Americans here at The Hub, so we do like a little drama and emotion thrown into our viewing experience. Some of the floor debates certainly provided that, especially on some of the most controversial issues like immunizations (a sleeper bill that emerged late in the session) and forced pooling.

Speaking of forced pooling, we really appreciated that members did think independently about some of the most heated issues and weren’t always willing to fall in line with their party when they disagreed. Forced pooling (a bill-passage2process of requiring landowners to sell their gas rights for hydraulic fracking if 80 percent of surrounding landowners have agreed to) was a highly controversial bill that many expected to pass. It was killed in the House during the final hours of the session Saturday evening by a vote of 49-49. There are 64 Republicans in the House, meaning that this vote was not along party lines.

This issue was one of the clearer demonstrations that there is a “hard-right” caucus within the Republican party that has a slightly different philosophy than the leadership. It surfaced towards the end of session that there is a “Tea Party/Liberty” caucus in the House Republican party that has organized itself and was providing some resistance to leadership on issues that ran contrary to Libertarian or Tea Party ideals. The power of this faction was significant in being able to kill or pass bills. It will be interesting to see how the caucus chooses to use its wedge power in next year’s session.

Some things we think need improvement

On a more negative note, we were pretty frustrated with some of the access to information challenges that the Legislature has still not solved.

Especially as the session went on, committee agendas were posted late (sometimes only a few minutes before the meeting started), were sometimes inaccurately updated and did not always reflect what was happening in the meeting. For full-time lobbyists who live in the halls of the Capitol for the session, this may have been par for the course. We think the Legislature can – and should – do better.

Regular citizens should be able to access up-to-date information about what is going on in a timely enough process that they can participate if they want.

It shouldn’t be a full-time job to stay involved in the policy decision-making that happens in our state. Regular citizens should be able to access up-to-date information about what is going on in a timely enough process that they can participate if they want. We haven’t quite got there yet.

There’s a whole host of things that could be improved with those committee meetings (including posting the minutes from each meeting online), but a lot of what could be improved at the Legislature relates to technology. The staff has taken huge strides to bring the Legislature into the 21st Century and increase public access to what is happening at the Capitol, from providing audio live-feeds of each committee meeting to working with WV Public Broadcasting to provide video live-feeds of both Senate and House floor sessions each day.

If you miss those live-feeds though, there is no way to access those recordings after they happen. We’d like to see the Legislature take the next step and save those recordings for public listening/viewing after they happen. Even providing recordings of committee meetings and floor sessions on the website for a week or so would be a significant step in the right direction for public access to the Legislature.

Power of Participation

Public involvement is key.Finally, we were extremely impressed with the number of public hearings on various bills this year and the public engagement in those bills. The number of hearings and public participation in them was due in large part to organizations and citizen groups requesting hearings (which the House is mandated to provide if they are requested) and organizing the public to participate in.

After watching many of these hearings and the impact they had, it is clear that they sometimes worked. One major lesson we can take away from this session is that the Legislature is open to public pressure, if the public can organize themselves enough to speak out for or against an issue.

We saw this clearly with HB 2881, which would have eliminated all local ordinances barring discrimination against LGTBQ persons. The charter school public hearing was another interesting example. The public comments were much more mixed, with half the speakers in favor of charter schools and half opposed. This mixed public reaction resulted in one delegate suggesting that there should be a public referendum on the issue – a suggestion that went nowhere. But it did demonstrate that legislators are paying attention to what the public thinks about bills, and are often looking for direction from us on how to move forward on issues.

Next year, if you only have a couple of hours to give to the Legislature, spend that time speaking at a public hearing. It can have a big impact.

We’ll leave the last word with two very different opinion pieces. Over at the Daily Mail, they perceived the session as your average outcome, with plenty of public participation in the process (and used a pretty weak justification of saying that because no punches got thrown, the session was generally positive). The Charleston Gazette’s Phil Kabler did not have such a positive read on the session, questioning whether job creation and creating a better business climate were the real priorities this session.

What did you think about this year’s session? Let us know in the comments below.

Stephanie Tyree