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Week four at the Legislature

Thursday will mark the halfway point of the 2020 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature. As I predicted, it’s been a very quiet session.

Case in point, as of this writing there are only four bills that have passed both the House of Delegates and Senate and are awaiting the signature of Gov. Jim Justice. That’s right, just four bills.

So far, there are 53 bills that have passed the House and await action in the Senate, which has passed 45 bills awaiting action by the House. We’re still 24 days away from Crossover Day, when bills have to be out of the house of origin to make it to the 60-day deadline at midnight March 7.

Perhaps boredom is why there is so much focus on non-issues, like rescuing our brothers and sisters from the clutches of the new Virginia liberal/progressive hegemony.

•••

If you haven’t heard of #Vexit yet, then you haven’t been reading my stories. But there has been two legislative resolutions, and now a full-on invitation from Justice, for Virginia counties dissatisfied with their new Democratic Party-controlled statehouse and governor’s office to petition their counties and vote to leave Virginia in a special election.

The first resolution by Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, was a very eloquently written resolution reminding Frederick County, Va., that it had an open invitation to join West Virginia.

The year prior to the 1863 proclamation from President Abraham Lincoln officially creating West Virginia, the Reformed Government of Virginia met in Wheeling and had given Jefferson, Berkeley and Frederick counties the opportunity to join what would be West Virginia. Berkeley and Jefferson voted to join, but Frederick never voted. After the Civil War, Virginia sued West Virginia, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision basically said West Virginia’s escape from Virginia was legal. Trump said the invitation for Frederick County to join up was still valid.

In talking to Trump about his resolution, it’s plain that he was serious, but only to a point. Ultimately, his resolution was meant as a friendly reminder of the history of the state and how it was formed. Del. Gary Howell, R-Mineral, decided to up the ante by creating his own resolution expanding the invitation to all Virginia counties. And Gov. Justice, not to be outdone by anyone, had Virginia native son and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. join him to yell the invitation from the West Virginia side of the border.

This is not a serious thing, even though Howell told me there are several counties looking at this. I have no doubt you can find people, particularly in the western part of Virginia who are politically similar to West Virginians, who would join up with West Virginia. The Commonwealth has transitioned from a purple state to a blue state, with several bills most conservatives don’t like being fast-tracked through their statehouse.

Yet, I think if you put this on a ballot in these counties I don’t see these initiatives passing. And even if they do pass, they’re non-binding. Virginia lawmakers would have to approve. Those counties could sue to leave, especially since there is case law from the lawsuit that West Virginia won against Virginia in 1870, but do we really want this?

Sure, adding new counties would mean more taxpayers. In a state that’s about to lose a congressional district, it’s an easy way to add population. But honestly those are the only two benefits of which I can think.

Let’s take Tazewell, Bland, Buchanan or Giles counties in Virginia for example. Let’s say they have been allowed to join West Virginia. These counties have many of the same problems as the rest of Southern West Virginia, including declining coal production. We haven’t been able to solve these challenges for the counties we have now.

What about their roads? We are struggling to take care of the road we have. Virginia rural roads are notoriously bad. What about the county school systems? Won’t those teachers be taking a pay cut to work in their new West Virginia county? What about tax structure? I could go on, but my point is there would be a lot of issues to work out.

This isn’t the 1800s anymore, folks.

•••

Okay, time for some corrections. I have two serious ones and one funny one.

First, Sen. John Pistenbarger, R-Nicholas, is the former vice president of the West Virginia Farm Bureau, not the current vice president. He left that position last November and was replaced by Woody Ireland, a former Republican delegate from Ritchie County.

Second, Bill Laird IV is not the son of the former Democratic state senator from Fayette County. He IS the former Democratic state senator. Forgive me for getting my Roman numerals mixed up. He served in the Senate from 2009 to 2017. That’s a big name and a known quantity for people in the district.

And the funny correction. When covering a press conference by Democratic House members on cannabis legislation last week, I said Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, had talked about proposed changes to the Medical Cannabis Act to allow for edibles and “cannabis flour.”

The day after, Pushkin messaged me on Facebook with one phrase: “Cannabis Flour?!?”

I record most things I cover and transcribe the audio. I asked Pushkin if he said “there’s, uh, a bill to allow for the sale of flour and edibles for medical cannabis.”

“Flower. Buds. It’s referred to as flower,” Pushkin typed back.

Since he went right into talking about edibles, I thought he meant flour. Apparently, there is no such thing as “cannabis flour.” However, if someone decides to create cannabis flour, I’ve got the perfect slogan:

The smell of fresh baked bread never smelled better.

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