Hearings Yes, But Listening is the Key

In the Wrap Up (on the WV State Legislature web page) for February 20th, Legislative leaders touted the number of public hearings that have been held on “bills of importance” this year. House Majority Leader Delegate Daryl Cowles (R-Morgan) said “Public hearings have long been a part of the process in the House for bills of heightened importance. This year we have had a great deal of input from citizens through the public hearing process. It is important to gather citizen input and this year we are considering numerous important bills to improve our state government- listening intently to the citizens.” I agree. But there’s a difference between “hearing” and “listening.”

This time, it seems that the Legislature has done both. During a hearing on HB 2881, a bill that would have restricted the right of local governments to pass fairness ordinances to provide protections to members of the LGBT community and others from discrimination, person after person spoke in opposition to the bill. Only three people spoke in support of this bill that would restrict civil rights. I wasn’t able to attend the hearing, but listened to much of the webcast. What struck me were the personal stories. Time after time people went up and spoke from the heart. Gay, straight, from various gender identities, from all over the State, all across the age spectrum, white and people of color, most everyone got up and talked about how this bill would harm them. I sat listening and hoped that the Delegates in the room were actually listening and would not advance this terrible bill. And the Legislature appears to have listened. Friday afternoon the House Government Organization Committee voted to indefinitely postpone the bill.

This time the Legislature listened. Together, we need to make those times happen more often. As most of you know, the State Senate is poised, probably before you even read this blog, to pass SB423 that will roll back many of the provisions of the “Aboveground Storage Tank Act” from last year. The bill will then move to the House and a public hearing has been requested. Delegates need to hear the personal stories from people who will be potentially harmed. Last year, during the “water crisis” (I use the quotation marks, because in reality, some have been having a crisis for many years) the State Legislature, much because of public pressure, passed a bill that would not only protect municipal drinking water, but also the rivers and streams. In other words it was the intent of the Legislature last year to protect the human rights of people to drink safe water, to fish in safe water, to live near safe streams, to be able to recreate on safe and clean rivers. We were told that “never again” would people need to worry about a tank falling through the regulatory cracks. The chemical spill was supposed to be a “wake up” call. Some have heeded that call, but some have instead fallen back to sleep, even before last year’s bill has had a chance. But we all have a chance to wake them back up. So I’m urging you to come out, tell your personal stories, demand your human right to clean, safe water. We don’t know when that hearing will be yet, but I hope that you will come out and support what the legislature did last year, tell your Delegate that they need to oppose the gutting of the Aboveground Storage Tank Act and that we are ALL united together when human rights are attacked. Tell them we celebrate when a hearing leads them to actually listening. Tell them they need to do that more often. You can also tell them that people are not forgetting, some are still living the nightmare of contaminated water and that they need to put the needs of people above the profits of the oil, gas, and coal industries. Remind them of who they should be hearing…..and listening to.

Congratulations to everyone involved in fighting back against HB 2881. That was a nice victory against intolerance. Well done!

 

PS: There’s Workers’ Rally at the State Capital at Noon, March 7th. Come out and support SEIU District 1199 and other Union brothers and sisters who are also fighting for justice! We need to come together to win on progressive issues in WV.

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  1. What is interesting about this is that it is easy for legislators to give in to the public over concerns like LGBTQ rights, where there is a great deal of public pressure because almost everyone is on board, and there is no MONEY at stake. However, with anything regarding the environment, legislators are likely to vote it down for many reasons. One is, industry lobbyists never sleep. They are in it every day. They know our legislators’ first names. They are the movers and shakers. The regular Joes like me who spend all of our spare time off work trying to educate the populace and contact legislators are a lone voice in the din. On top of that, the conversation always comes around to JOBS and the economy and economic hardship for “small business” (due to internalizing costs which should already be part of a responsible business model). But the jobs numbers are overinflated, the economic aspects of this are tiny in comparison to, say, the number of subsidies corporations receive. The benefits of coal, gas, and pipeline jobs are much fewer than advertised, and their contribution to our economy could easily be offset by other types of job creation, such as renewable energy development, energy efficiency, and updating our crumbling infrastructure, to name only a few. But industry (specifically coal, oil, and gas) always gets first priority. Our model is broken. We need to prioritize public health. WV Code supports this. Our public officials are tasked with preserving our land, water, and wildlife for future generations, but they are not doing it. We need to make them accountable and hold their feet to the fire, but how? The only way I know to combat the huge money in our government (besides legislating against it, but now that they have control, why would they let go?) is to get as many people as possible on board. There is strength in numbers and the opposition is growing. As Ken Ward says, we need to be the voice of sustained outrage. Let’s keep the pressure on, spread the word, and make our legislators understand that, without clean water, there is no need for a job, there is no economic remedy, and there is no future. Our future is in their hands and they need to start taking it seriously, but they won’t unless we force them to. Get out there, visit your county commissioners, go meet your legislators, send letters to the editor. Tell your story, and make yourself heard, because it’s OUR story.

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