Dear Friends, Partners, & Allies,
Good news! Several bills have been introduced that advance the goals of the Pro-Democracy, Anti-Corruption Platform and the list is growing. Two of these bills have started to work their way through the legislative process.
SB 236, which would provide notice and an opportunity to persons convicted of certain crimes that they are eligible to vote after completion of their punishment, passed the Senate this week and is now pending in the House Judiciary Committee.
Millions of Americans are permanently barred from participating in our democracy because of past mistakes, but restoring voting rights to former felons is one of the things West Virginia does right. SB 236 will help ensure they are aware that, after they complete their sentences, they will not be denied this fundamental right. (This is just one of several second chance and criminal justice reform bills moving through the Legislature. The Charleston Gazette-Mail provides an in-depth look at some of the bills under consideration here.)
In the House, the House Judiciary Committee advanced and sent to the floor HB 2008, which would require that a run-off election be held when no candidate receives a majority of votes cast in the nonpartisan election of justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals. The bill was prompted by the results of the November special elections to fill two vacancies on the Supreme Court, where the Governor’s appointees Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins won with 26% and 36% of the vote respectively in a crowded field of 20 candidates (10 for each seat).
Under the proposed bill, if no candidate for a seat on the Supreme Court receives more than 40 percent of the votes cast in the election held for that office in conjunction with the primary election (when judicial elections are now held), a runoff election for that division shall be conducted during the general election. However, the bill failed to address the situation that happened in November, and it has been parked on the House inactive calendar.
In addition to bills that are part the Pro-Democracy, Anti-Corruption agenda, we are also monitoring other legislative proposals related to our courts. These include SB 266, which would establish an intermediate court of appeals (ICA). SB 266 would create the first unelected judges in the history of West Virginia, and allow Governor Justice to appoint all the members of the ICA. You can read more about this court packing scheme here.
Rather than packing the courts, as part of the Pro-Democracy, Anti-Corruption Platform, we’re asking legislators to strengthen the state’s campaign finance laws, judicial ethics rules, and the state’s public financing program for judicial candidates, which allows judges to avoid relying on large campaign contributions from wealthy donors. On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB 266 and sent it on to Finance.
We’ll continue to keep you posted. In the meantime, here’s the list of Pro-Democracy, Anti-Corruption Platform bills that have been introduced so far.
Julie Archer, Coordinator