The 2019 Legislative Session is right around the corner and we’re gearing up to expand and protect civil liberties for all West Virginians. Team ACLU-WV is prepared to build on last year’s successes to create real change across the Mountain State. Below are a few issues/bills we expect to see this session:
EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW
With marriage equality in the Mountain State, it’s time legislators provide housing and employment protections for LGBTQ+ West Virginians and stop legislating bathrooms and entertaining so-called “religious freedom” legislation. Now more than ever it is important that West Virginia has enumerated protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Anti-Sharia Law Bill
Formally known as the Comity in Foreign Laws act, this bill purported to require all legal proceedings to follow West Virginia law. However, the model was provided by an organization notorious for its anti-Islamic rhetoric. Beyond being driven by religious bias, this bill would have interfered with a number of proceedings that are usually governed by religious law.
Confederate Monument Protection Act
We should not be glorifying the history of treason in defense of human slavery. And when our state is finally ready to remove tributes to institutional racism, we shouldn’t need to overcome laws designed to keep them there.
Our legal system is built around the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty. However, the reality is that thousands of people in West Virginia spend days, weeks, and months in jail without ever having been found guilty of a crime. Instead they’re in jail because they cannot afford to pay bail.
In 2017, the West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Bill 386, which provides for the legalization of medicinal cannabis. Now is the time we work to decriminalize cannabis and pass laws that allow for recreational use.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
Under current law, police can seize and take ownership of individual West Virginians’ property without ever charging or convicting them of a crime. This progressive legislation would combine criminal prosecutions and forfeiture actions into one court proceeding and require conviction to allow for forfeiture. Additionally, the law enforcement agency that seized the property would no longer receive the proceeds of the forfeiture, thus ending the perverse incentive to abuse the forfeiture system.
ACCESS TO DEMOCRACY
Since the passage of the voter ID law in 2016, there have already been efforts to narrow the list of acceptable ID’s. The ACLU-WV should be prepared for another attempt and prepared to defend against any attempt to rollback or limit the list of acceptable ID’s.
Judicial Election Reform
The top-vote-getter in both Supreme Court elections won with the support of significantly less than a majority of voters. We can reform this broken practice by instituting rank choice voting or establishing a runoff during the general election if no candidate gets a majority of the votes.
Protecting Automatic Voter Registration
Part of the voter ID law was the implementation of an automatic voter registration program. Since that was passed, there has already been one attempt to repeal it, and a successful attempt to delay implementation by a year. The law is supposed to go into effect in 2019, so there is a strong possibility it could come under attack this year. If so, the ACLU-WV would defend it.
JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM
Classrooms NOT Courtrooms
This legislation would create a pilot program combing school-based health centers, with a model known as school-based diversion, where before a school can take substantial disciplinary action, the student must be diverted through a mental or behavioral health assessment, and treatment if warranted.
After the victory in the 2015 legislative session to relax draconian truancy laws, West Virginia education officials are again highlighting absenteeism as a problem in the state. Rather than looking to root causes, the desire appears to be to once again tighten the law, causing more youth and families to become system-involved. The ACLU-WV will oppose any efforts like this.
West Virginia still has obsolete code criminalizing abortion. While that code is not enforceable under federal law, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, the passage of Amendment 1, and the state’s assertion that code can be instantly revived, it is imperative that this code be removed.