WV Update – August 2016

West Virginia Update

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Action Taken Recently
  • Natural Resources: Water Issues, Clean Power and Methane
  • Election Laws
  • Health Care in WV
  • The November Election

ACTION TAKEN

ACTION on VOTING RIGHTS

  • The League sent a message Congress supporting the Federal Election Administration Act of 2016 to replace the Federal Election Commission (FEC) with a more comprehensive agency. The agency would work as a bipartisan watchdog to restore fairness, transparency, and integrity to the electoral process.
  • The League signed a petition to President Obama to bring Affordable Care Act into compliance with National Voting Rights Act.  This asks him to comply with federal law by making voter registration available through the federal health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

ACTION on WATER

  • The League signed on to a letter prepared by the WV Rivers Coalition to the WVDEP on suggestions for its Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards. We supported Category A Drinking Water protection for all of the streams of our state unless there has been a variance given. Comments were also given on changing our methods for testing for bacteria, the best method for predicting acute toxicity of certain metals, adopting standards for aquatic life criteria for five organic chemicals, and determining the best measurement of flow vis-a-vis the pollutants distributed into the waters.    To read the comments, contact Helen Gibbins.

NATURAL RESOURCES

by Helen Gibbins

FLOOD PROTECTION PLAN

From the Charleston Gazette-Mail. State flood protection plan ‘sitting dusty on a shelf’

After the June floods in WV, West Virginians were reminded that there was a flood protection plan released in 2004. If it had been adopted, some of the deaths and other severe problems left in the aftermath of the floods could have been prevented. The Plan included some suggestions such as better management of construction in flood plains and better-enforced building codes; improved flood warning systems; new regulations on timbering to prevent runoff pollution; guidelines for the design of stream crossings, access roads and culverts; more rigorous stormwater flow management; new rules for flood insurance; more public education efforts; and better regulation of non-coal dams.

As to better regulation of timbering, we should remember that the 2016 budget cut 37 forestry employees, thus lessening the ability of the state to enforce the Logging Sediment Control Act.

Even without legislation the state has improved the distribution of stream gauges that provide real-time data for flood warnings. But many officials believe this system needs further improvement.

Also flood plain management has improved on the local level because counties have adopted flood plain ordinances, but enforcing the ordinances varies throughout the state.  The Flood Plain Study also asked for the establishment of a Flood Prevention Task Force to coordinate state efforts on flood prevention. That suggestion also was not passed by the legislature.

Flooding in WV is a huge expense to our citizens both in lives lost and destruction of homes, infrastructure, and places of work. Government also bears high expenses in trying to ameliorate the damages from flooding. West Virginia is a state with much unplanned development, natural resource extraction, and a topography that contribute to damages from flooding. Re- looking at the Flood Protection Plan and implementing its suggestions should be a priority of the legislature and our citizens.

CLEAN POWER PLAN

From CLIMATE CENTRAL, The Suit Against the Clean Power Plan, Explained

The Clean Power Plan is the Obama administration’s policy to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired electric power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Under the plan, which was critical to the Paris climate agreement slated to be signed this month, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to regulate power plant emissions under the Clean Air Act. Each state has its own emissions reductions goal to meet under the plan.

Nearly half of all the states want to stop the Clean Power Plan because they believe it’s an illegal attempt to ‘reorganize the nation’s energy grid’ and an attack on the coal industry that will lead to higher electricity costs, even though the EPA says the plan will lead to lower electric power bills for homeowners.

With the fervent support of the coal industry and some utilities, 24 states including Texas, Alabama, New Jersey, West Virginia and Wyoming, have sued the EPA. They are asking the courts to declare the plan unconstitutional partly because they say that the federal government does not have the authority to regulate a state’s carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act… .

METHANE REGULATIONS

The USEPA finalized the first-ever national standards to cut climate-harming methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. These safeguards, which apply to new oil and gas infrastructure, will help protect our climate and communities around the country from dangerous methane pollution from future oil and gas development. The WV Attorney General and AGs from some other states are challenging the rules on methane.

ELECTION LAWS

by Kathy Stoltz

The LWVWV participated in three meetings this summer as part of an advisory panel making recommendations on implementation of  the automatic voter registration (AVR) program scheduled to go into effect in 2018 under the provisions of HB 4013, (better known as Voter ID bill) passed by the legislature this year. The Secretary of State’s office is responsible for submitting the rule to implement the AVR provision for legislative approval. The advisory panel included county clerks, DMV, LWVWV, CAG (Citizen action Group), and various other interested groups and also was advised by Tova Wang of the Center for Secure and Modern Elections.

If local Leagues get inquiries, note that West Virginia’s Voter ID law does not go into effect until 2018. It provides a long list of acceptable forms of identification. There will be an opportunity for local Leagues to do education in their communities on this change in the 2018 elections.

When implemented, AVR will provide that whenever someone has a transaction at the DMV they will automatically be registered to vote unless they affirmatively decline to register. Most of the information necessary for voter registration is already collected and stored by DMV, so only minimal extra information is required to add unregistered eligible voters to the rolls.

The Clean Elections Coalition also met this summer to consider the direction in which its efforts should be focused. The priorities were securing ongoing funding for the public financing program for candidates for the Supreme Court of Appeals, improving regulation of campaign financing disclosure, and better enforcement of disclosure laws.

HEALTH CARE

By Nancy Deming

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: more successful than expected

From HEALTHINSURANCE.ORG, West Virginia health insurance marketplace

37,284 people enrolled in private plans through West Virginia’s exchange during the 2016 open enrollment period. More than 12,600 were new enrollees, while the rest already had coverage through the West Virginia exchange and either renewed it for 2016 or switched to a different exchange plan. 86 percent of the 2016 enrollees are receiving premium subsidies to offset the cost of their coverage.

For comparison, 33,421 people enrolled in private plans through the West Virginia exchange during the 2015 open enrollment period. So the exchange ended up with almost 112 percent of last year’s total, despite the fact that HHS began accounting for attrition in real-time this year, and the February 1 total already reflects policy cancellations (including unpaid enrollments) through that date.

Medicaid enrollment continues year-round. West Virginia expanded Medicaid under the ACA, and has been extremely successful at enrolling eligible residents. As of early May 2016, total enrollment in expanded Medicaid had reached 173,582. Originally, West Virginia officials had projected that Medicaid expansion would cover about 150,000 people, but they surpassed that number in 2014. As of March 2016, there were 556,843 West Virginia residents enrolled in Medicaid/CHIP (including traditional and expansion populations), or about 30 percent of the state’s population.

THE NOVEMBER ELECTION

The League’s Voter’s Guide will be available from local Leagues, some newspapers, and online at www.lwvwv.org.  Look for it by October 17th.  The state League collects data on statewide offices (governor, etc.) and local Leagues collect the information from their local representatives (delegates, mayors, etc.)  If there is no local information for your area, that is because there is no local League in your part of the state.

This will certainly be an exciting year for elections!

For additional information about events happening in the WV or National Leagues, please log on to LWVWV or LWV.

Nancy Novak, President
League of Women Voters of West Virginia

The League of Women Voters is where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement.

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