Amendments to the West Virginia Constitution are historically rare. But this year, West Virginians could adopt up to four amendments via ballot measure in November.
At ACLU-WV, we are dedicated to protecting rights guaranteed by federal and state constitutions. We’ve monitored these proposed changes to the state constitution closely and have taken positions on two of the four following amendments. Regardless of our position, it is important to explain what each one of these changes is and how they would impact West Virginians.
1) Providing that courts have no authority or jurisdiction to intercede or intervene in, or interfere with, any impeachment proceedings of the House of Delegates or the Senate
This proposed amendment would remove the court’s ability to intervene in any impeachment proceeding or judgment.
Typically, courts have been hesitant to intervene in impeachments. However, in 2018 the WV Supreme Court overruled an unprecedented attempt to reshape the Court in one fell swoop.
The ACLU-WV OPPOSES this amendment. We believe courts play a vital role in ensuring that impeachment proceedings follow basic rules of due process and fairness.
2) Property Tax Modernization Amendment
The West Virginia Constitution currently allows the taxation of personal property based on the value of that property with exemptions made for the following categories: property that is less than $200 in value, livestock and agricultural property, scientific property and charitable property.
This proposed amendment would add machinery, inventory, and other tangible business property the list of exemptions.
Supporters of this amendment argue that it would greatly reduce the tax burden on businesses and spur job growth. Critics, however, say it would dramatically reduce revenue, particularly for schools and counties.
The ACLU-WV takes no position on the Amendment. However, we recognize that the state has an obligation to appropriately fund public schools and the loss of revenue for schools will need to be made up by some other means.
3) Incorporation of Churches or Religious Denominations Amendment
This proposed amendment would allow churches and other religious organizations to incorporate in West Virginia.
Currently, these institutions are prohibited from incorporating under Section 6-47 of the West Virginia Constitution — a provision borrowed from the Virginia Constitution. Back when that provision was originally written, incorporation was a highly controlled special benefit granted by the government. Today, the main benefit of incorporation is limited liability.
The ACLU-WV SUPPORTS this amendment. We believe that excluding religious bodies from incorporating unconstitutionally treats religious organizations differently than non-religious entities. The ACLU of Virginia helped to successfully overturn this provision in the Virginia Constitution.
4) Clarifying that the policy-making and rule-making authority of the State Board of Education is subject to legislative review, approval, amendment, or rejection
This amendment would make it so the rules and policies of the State Board of Education to legislative review.
From a technical standpoint, rules are specific policies, procedures, and regulations that administrative bodies create to govern their work. For most administrative agencies, such rules must be reviewed and approved by the Legislature to go into full effect. The Legislature also has the power to modify or reject proposed rules or rule changes.
To maintain independence from the political arena, the WV Constitution did not place the State Board of Education under the rule of the Legislature. If successful, this amendment would remove that separation and put State Board rules under the same review process as other administrative agencies. Opponents of this amendment highlight the politicization of education and argue for clear and consistent policies as reasons to maintain a system independent from politicking. Proponents will argue that the passage of this amendment allows for a more representative voice in education policy, and puts the Board of Education on level footing with other administrative agencies.
The ACLU-WV takes no position on this amendment.