Three bills caught our attention this week, and they are a perfect example of the mix of issues we pay attention to here at The Hub:
- The impact on communities of economic decline and large institutions leaving (like WVU Tech);
- The impact and importance of equality, diversity and building the type of communities that attract and retain residents (equal pay); and
- Continuing to grow our craft brew economy (through growler samples).
Moving WVU Tech: The Red Tape
Much of the drama around WVU Tech and its main campus in Montgomery (on the border of Kanawha and Fayette counties) has played out in the newspapers over the last year.
The tl;dr version of the story is that the facilities at WVU Tech had fallen into disrepair (and there wasn’t adequate funding to improve them), and its student population was on the decline.
In the summer of 2015, WVU purchased the former campus of Mountain State University in Beckley. Three months later it announced that it was moving the Tech campus from Montgomery (a town of less than 2,000 people) to Beckley (with a population of more than 17,000), starting fall 2017.
There have been a number of hoops that the university has had to jump through in order to make this major change, including the current priority it has to change the portion of WV Code that requires WVU Tech to be located in Montgomery.
SB 386 and HB 4310, both introduced by Raleigh County legislators, would amend that section of code to eliminate the requirement that Tech be located in Beckley, and eliminate the statutory requirement to have a WVU Tech Revitalization Project.
It recognizes that multiple studies have found that the facilities are in disrepair and would need a significant increase in the student body, and in state funding, to address the repairs. And it recognizes that a collaboration is in place between the southern West Virginia colleges of WVU, WVU Tech, Marshall, Bluefield State, and Concord University and encourages that continued collaboration.
The bills are currently before both Education Committees and have yet to be taken up on either side.
It will remain to be seen how Montgomery finds a way to survive and thrive in the face of the significant impact of WVU Tech leaving the community. Ways that the state can step up and support that community are under consideration by legislators in both Chambers. We’ll keep watching to see what ideas they come up with.
Legislature Considers Step Toward Gender Equality
In West Virginia, women earn, on average, 69 percent of what their male counterparts earn.
This is a 10 percent greater gap than Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia. If women were really motivated by this wage gap, they’d probably be moving to Maryland, where women make 85 percent of what men make – quite a bit better than the national average of 78 percent.
The House and Senate have both introduced bills to try to start addressing this wage gap. The Equal Pay Act of 2016 would be the first step towards starting the process of moving West Virginia towards equal pay for women and men.
The proposed bills – HB 4328; SB 471 and 477 – don’t require equal pay for both genders. Instead they merely prohibit employers from restricting employee discussion about compensation, benefits and other wages.
These bills would make it a discriminatory act for an employer to restrict employees from talking about these activities, or require employees to sign waivers saying they won’t share information about their wages with other people.
Opening up the process so that employees can share information on their wages is the first step towards moving to a more equal pay scale between the genders.
The Senate bills are identical, and have slightly different Democratic sponsors. Both bills have been double referenced and we’d be surprised to see them move out of their committee assignments.
The House bill is the one to watch. A bi-partisan bill sponsored by Delegate Erikka Storch, it has seven female co-sponsors, along with a couple of male co-sponsors thrown in for good measure.
We’re curious about why the rest of the womens’ caucus did not sign on to the bill – 10 women delegates, both Republicans and Democrats, are not listed as co-sponsors.
Try Before You Buy: Growler Samples
No one will ever look back on the 82nd Legislature and question Senator Chris Walters commitment to expanding the craft brewery industry in West Virginia. And he’s back again with another (good) bill – SB 478 – allowing for sampling beers at places that sell growlers.
For those of you who frequent places that sell local brews, this is a pretty self-explanatory bill. It basically allows for patrons to try small samples of different beers (2 ounces or less) before purchasing a growler.
But no one can go crazy on samples – licensees can only provide three samples per person, and they’ll check your ID before they do that.
Here’s a real world example: Drug Emporium has recently opened growler bars in some of its locations. If this bill were passed, you would be able to try a few beers before settling on which growler to buy, even though Drug Emporium is not a bar or restaurant where you can drink openly.
There was a lot of support last year for craft brewing bills. Senator Walters has got six bills relating to craft brewing and the beverage industry introduced under his name this year. We’ll have to wait and see which – if any – get through the process.