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Republican Lawmakers Dinged in New West Virginia Chamber Scorecard

With the 2023 legislative session in the rear-view mirror, hindsight is 20/20 as the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce takes stock of which lawmakers were more business-friendly than others.

The Chamber released its annual legislative scorecards Monday, much to the chagrin of various Republican lawmakers who received poor scores.

Out of 134 members of the Legislature, five Republican lawmakers received the lowest scores for business friendliness, including Del. Adam Vance, R-Wyoming (16.13%); Del. Henry Dillon, R-Wayne (19.35%); Del. Mark Dean, R-Mingo (32.26%); state Sen. Laura Wakim Chapman, R-Ohio (33.33%); and Del. Todd Kirby, R-Raleigh (35.48%).

A working group of Chamber members looked at committee and floor votes on 18 bills and amendments to those bills dealing with education, economic development, good government, legal and insurance reform, and budget and tax issues. Some of the bill/amendment votes were double- and triple-weighted.

The Chamber scorecard group also considered two new categories. Lawmakers were rated on “business engagement,” measuring how receptive lawmakers were to the viewpoint of the Chamber on legislation. “Business engagement” considered the professionalism lawmakers displayed with Chamber officials, willingness to reach out, and receptiveness.

The scorecard group also considered “leadership qualities,” which considered floor speeches, committee actions, and the kinds of bills sponsored by lawmakers. “Leadership qualities” rated these actions on whether they encouraged or discouraged people to move to West Virginia to work or raise their families.

“We were very pleased that 15 members of the Senate and 24 members of the House of Delegates received a 100% on this year’s scorecard,” said Steve Roberts, president of the state Chamber. “Those scores are only possible when legislators are willing to make the hard decisions and cast the difficult votes on important policy items that will make West Virginia a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

Chapman’s score was due in part to her actions on House Bill 3270, limiting non-economic damages that can be awarded in deliberate intent cases to $500,000. The state Senate rejected a committee amendment to HB 3270 after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said he did not support it.

The bill was amended in committee after Chapman offered an amendment to remove the word “fraudulent” from the bill in regard to occupational pneumoconiosis cases. The bill would allow causes of actions to be brought against employers who fraudulently conceal dust and air quality samples. Opponents of Chapman’s amendment believed removing “fraudulent” from the bill language would open up employers to a flood of frivolous lawsuits.

HB 3270 passed the House of Delegates 52-45 and passed the Senate 24-8, with Chapman voting against the bill after her amendment was stripped out. The bill became law without the signature of Gov. Jim Justice.

Chapman received negative marks for voting against Senate Bill 188, which directs the Department of Economic Development to find potential sites for natural gas-fired power generation; voting against Senate Bill 268, making changes to the Public Employee Insurance Agency to keep the health insurance program solvent; voting against House Bill 2218, clarifying that using apps on mobile phones while driving is illegal; and voting against Senate Bill 151, allowing owners of pass-through business entities to be taxed at the entity level instead of individually.

On top of those negative marks, Chapman received negative marks for business engagement and leadership qualities from the Chamber, which endorsed her 2022 campaign for state Senate. A request for comment from Chapman was not returned.

Several Republican lawmakers received negative marks for their votes against House Bill 2882, making a supplemental appropriation to the state Department of Economic Development for the Form Energy project in Weirton, as well as failed amendments to the bill.

HB 2882 transfers $115 million in surplus tax dollars from the previous fiscal year to the Department of Economic Development, with $105 million going to the Economic Development Project Fund as part of an overall $300 million package the state is providing for Form’s battery manufacturing project.

Despite HB 2882 passing by large margins, the bill garnered hours of debate in both the House and Senate from a small-but-vocal group of Republican lawmakers. Multiple amendments were offered to either re-direct the $105 million elsewhere or strip the $105 million from the bill entirely.

Opponents questioned the economic benefits of the plant compared to the state’s investment, criticized statements from Form Energy officials about using their batteries to end the use of fossil fuels, and accused supporters of putting coal mine jobs at risk.

Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, received a 48.28% business-friendly ranking for offering an amendment to strip funding from the bill and supporting another amendment to move the money elsewhere. The bill passed the House 69-25, though McGeehan was not present for the vote.

In a statement Tuesday, McGeehan accused the Chamber of being more interested in using taxpayer dollars to bring in a questionable start-up intent on replacing fossil energy with wind and solar power than helping long-established businesses in the state.

“I think they’re probably a little out of touch,” McGeehan said. “There’s a difference between the common good of my local community, and what’s merely good for Big Business. Maybe the people lobbying for the Chamber of Commerce ought to leave their country clubs in Charleston — because they seem to think that these two things are always one and the same.”

Of 134 lawmakers, 20 scored below 50% for business friendliness. Of that number, 18 were Republicans, including state Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, and state Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph. Karnes accused the state Chamber of following the lead of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been accused the last several years of supporting Democratic causes.

“This scorecard was an obedience ranking, literally,” Karnes said Monday in a post on Twitter. “The bills were picked to hit conservative senators. The state Chamber has followed the U.S. Chamber into woke hell.”


Story by Steven Allen Adams, The Intelligencer


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