How does the Legislature function when it’s been taken over by a single issue?

Senator Roman Prezioso addresses the Senate on Friday, February 16. Photo by Will Price, Legislative Photographer.

BY: TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB

In the midst of this historic moment for teachers, public workers, and for labor rights in West Virginia, we’re asking:

How does the Legislature function when it’s been taken over by a single issue?

While the plight of teachers and other public employees has gained more attention this year than most issues often do, it’s not unusual for a single issue or bill to become the primary focus of lawmakers, interest groups, and the general public during a Legislative Session.

So, is the system designed to function well when this happens?

In some ways, the Legislative process is set up to offer many opportunities for legislators to attempt to address issues that take the spotlight. As legislators look for ways to generate revenue for the state, they can also allocate where that revenue will go. In this case, they could choose to put those funds towards the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) and provide teachers with desperately needed raises.

While the system offers these opportunities for action, it’s also easy to manipulate it when everyone’s attention is drawn to a particular issue. This week saw a very heated example of this play out on the Senate floor.

SB 398 was under review by the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance last week. It would allow consumer lenders to charge a startlingly high 31% interest on a greater number of loans. Currently, they are allowed to charge 31% per year on loans up to $2,500. If this bill becomes a law, they would be able to charge 31% per year for loans up to $3,500.

Opponents of the bill are concerned that it would enable predatory lenders to take advantage of people whose precarious financial situation makes it necessary to rely on loans of this type.

The bill was killed in the Banking and Insurance Committee, with a majority of committee members voting not to advance it to the full Senate. However, the chair of that committee, Senator Azinger of Wood County brought up the bill for further discussion at a subsequent committee meeting, even after the votes had been cast.

This isn’t against the rules, if a committee member has a question about the verbal “yeas” and “nays” given in a committee meeting, the Chair can opt to review the bill and potentially call for another vote before the full committee.

The problem in this case was that a Natural Resources Committee meeting was occurring at the same time as this second Banking and Insurance meeting and many of the Senators who had voted “nay” on SB 398 were attending that committee meeting where they were discussing SB 270, a bill related to timbering in state forests.  

While a majority of the Senators who had voted down the bill were attending the meeting of the Natural Resources Committee, the remaining Senators in Banking and Insurance held a re-vote and determined that SB 398 be advanced for review by the full Senate.

When the bill was up for a 3rd reading on the Senate Floor (time: 11:54:09),  Senator Prezioso of Marion County (who is a member of both committees) appeared genuinely shocked that the bill had been advanced out of committee after being voted down. He addressed the Senate, arguing that this kind of “backroom” dealing was an improper use of a process which should provide an equal opportunity for all representatives to do the job they are elected to do: represent their constituents’ interests as they determine whether or not to pass proposed legislation.

Following an early and vocally contested end to the floor session related to Senate leadership’s unwillingness to continue business while a large contingent of teachers was present in the gallery and at the Capitol, Prezioso confronted Azinger about this manipulation of the process and physical violence almost broke out in the Senate Chamber.

SB 398 passed through the Senate on Monday, even after a majority of committee members voted it down.

In this instance the committee process, which is supposed to prevent legislation like this from ever making it to the floor, was manipulated to ensure that it didn’t function as intended.

Our legislative system may present a number of opportunities to deal with urgent issues, but it is also offers opportunities for those in positions of power to work the system to the advantage of an interest or political party.

As focus zeros in on issues of incredible importance, like the daily struggle of teachers and other public workers, the watchful eye we keep on our legislative process needs to be even more intense than ever.

Interested in more articles like this one? Subscribe to The Hub’s Legislative Hubbub email, sent every Thursday during Session. Sign up now »

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Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Message from our Executive Leadership Team

Fifteen years ago, stakeholders building up local communities and economies in West Virginia convened to map a coordinated strategy to systemically grow community economic development activity in the state. From the shared vision and collaborative leadership of dozens of strategic partners across the state, the WV Community Development Hub was born.

Since that time, The Hub has grown into the anchor community development organization serving West Virginia. We have built upon the original vision to create a method for rural, community-led development strategies that is uniquely tailored to the needs and opportunities of our state.

As we have grown and developed a proven model for success, our partnerships with community and economic development practitioners, funders, and committed West Virginia residents have been foundational to every element of our work.

Over the past two years, the team at The Hub has adapted to the unprecedented challenges our communities have faced during the pandemic by leaning into our core strengths to deepen our impact. The Hub remains committed to tackling persistent challenges, and we have focused our attention on the most impactful elements of our work.

We are supporting community leaders to advance their visions for local development, creating new pathways for engagement and leadership growth through our virtual training platform, and leading strategies that lift up voices of community leaders to move forward solutions to long-held challenges to growth.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that nothing about the future is set in stone. While the coming year may present enormous opportunities for advancement in our state, they will also inevitably require significant capacity building, shared strategies that are grounded in trust-based partnerships, and extended efforts to support the leadership development of individuals and organizations who have been asked to do more during a time of extreme stress and strain.

The services that anchor organizations like The Hub provide are even more critical in this time, and we expect our work to scale significantly in the coming years ahead.

We look forward to continuing to do the work of putting into action the vision and the shared strategies envisioned by that core group of community economic development practitioners and funders fifteen years ago.

In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

Director of Community Engagement

Emma Pepper

Director of Strategic Network Communications

Katie Loudin

Director of Strategic Development

Montgomery

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Smithers

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Kingwood

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Lewis County

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Meadow River Valley Region

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Monticello Neighborhood of Clarksburg

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Watch their community documentary.

New Martinsville

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Systemic Change

2021 became a time period of catalytic potential as we saw years of investment into our core strategies to enact systemic change yield new results. Our strategic focus areas include policy, communications, and supporting the community economic development system in leveraging unique financing opportunities such as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative and Opportunity Zones.

In addition, through our strategic policy support role within the Abandoned Properties Coalition, The Hub successfully advanced two key objectives: the creation of a statewide land bank at the West Virginia Land Stewardship Corporation and extension of the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. 

Through the Opportunity Appalachia program, 6 catalytic community projects located in WV-based Opportunity Zones received $250,000 for pre-development technical assistance. Three projects received additional private funding as a result of program participation.

Community Coaching

In 2021, we accompanied 16 communities through our in-depth, professional coaching programs. In addition to leaning into coaching and financing opportunities offered through these programs, participating communities leveraged an additional $2.8 million in funding on their own for community economic development projects. While participating in our entry-level coaching program, Cultivate WV, Montgomery and Smithers realized momentum-building success through access to $40,000 in seed funding for projects like farmers markets, public art, wayfinding, community events, and development of a trail system.

Six communities, Lewis County, Kingwood, Meadow River Valley, Monticello neighborhood in Clarksburg, New Martinsville and Parsons, graduated the intermediate planning program Blueprint Communities* with strategic plans in place. We also launched a new round of HubCAP, our flagship community economic development program, in six towns located in the Monongahela National Forest region: Cowen, Franklin, White Sulphur Springs, Elkins, Marlinton, and Petersburg.

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Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. 

A core team led by Woodlands Development Group also participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Franklin

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

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Petersburg

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

White Sulphur Springs

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

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A core team led by Crawford Holdings, LLC participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Huntington

Core teams led by Thundercloud, Inc. and the City of Huntington participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support community development projects located in Opportunity Zones.

Grafton

A core team led by Unleash Tygart, Inc participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Leadership Development

As hundreds of people began to engage in our virtual training activities in 2020, we saw a critical opportunity to scale and deepen our impact. This year, The Hub team developed an accessible, virtual platform with options for self-guided and group learning activities as well as professional coaching.

Kickstart Communities is now the crux of our efforts to bring new people into the work and grow their leadership. These activities now form the foundational stages of a Community Leadership Development Pipeline to move motivated residents from seeing the challenges in their communities to proactively collaborating to resolve them.

Cowen

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. Read their community case study.