West Virginia State Legislature refers three constitutional amendments to 2022 ballot during its 2021 session

The West Virginia State Legislature referred three constitutional amendments to the November 2022 ballot on April 9 and 10, the last days of the legislative session. 

  1. West Virginia No Court Authority over Impeachment Amendment
  2. West Virginia Incorporation of Religious Denominations and Churches Amendment
  3. West Virginia Tax Exemptions for Personal Property Used for Business Activity Amendment

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote is required in both the West Virginia State Senate (23 votes) and the West Virginia House of Delegates (67 votes). November 2020 elections gave Republicans two-thirds majorities in both chambers when previously at least some support from Democrats to refer amendments to the ballot.

One amendment would say that no state court has authority over impeachment proceedings by the state legislature and that no court can review any impeachment judgments made by the state senate. The amendment was introduced as House Joint Resolution 2 on February 11, 2021, and passed largely along party lines in each chamber. The state House approved the amendment by a vote of 78-21 on March 2, 2021. In the House, 76 Republicans and two Democrats voted in favor of it, and 21 Democrats voted against it. On April 9, 2021, the state Senate approved the amendment by a vote of 23-11. All 23 Republicans voted in favor of it, and all 11 Democrats voted against it.

The amendment was proposed in response to an investigation and impeachment proceedings for multiple West Virginia Supreme Court Justices in 2018. Investigation and impeachment proceedings stemmed from the justices’ alleged misuse of over $1 million in state funds, specifically relating to courthouse office renovations; misuse of state vehicles; and illegal payments to senior judges. On October 2, 2018, the Senate censured Justice Beth Walker but did not remove her from office. In October 2018, temporary supreme court justices blocked the Senate from conducting an impeachment trial for Justices Margaret Workman, Robin Davis, and Allen Loughry. A similar amendment was proposed in 2020 but did not receive the necessary two-thirds vote in the House.

Another amendment would authorize the state legislature to pass laws to incorporate churches and religious denominations. The measure was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 4 (SJR 4) on February 10, 2021. The state Senate approved SJR 4 with a vote of 32-0 with two absent on March 2, 2021. On April 7, 2021, the state House adopted the bill with amendments and sent it back to the state Senate. On April 10, the state Senate did not adopt the amendments and sent the bill back to the state House where it was approved in its original form in a vote of 94-4 with one absent. Four Democratic legislators voted against it.

The third amendment would authorize the state legislature to exempt personal property (machinery, equipment, and inventory) used for business activity from ad valorem property taxes. The amendment was introduced as House Joint Resolution 3 (HJR 3) on February 11, 2021. The state House approved an amended version of HJR 3 with a vote of 84-16 on March 31, 2021. Fifteen Democratic representatives and one Republican voted against it. On April 10, 2021, the state Senate approved the measure with a vote of 29-5. Four Democratic senators and one Republican voted against it.

The West Virginia State Legislature convened on February 10, 2021, and adjourned on April 10, 2021. Republicans held a 23-11 majority in the Senate and a 76-24 majority in the House, which means Republicans had the two-thirds majority required to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in both chambers. Before the November 2020 elections, Republicans held 20 seats in the Senate and 58 seats in the House, which means they needed at least three votes from Democrats in the Senate and nine votes from Democrats in the House to refer constitutional amendments to the ballot.

The party also controlled the governorship, creating a Republican state government trifecta.

From 1996 through 2020, 73.3% (11 of 15) of statewide ballot measures in West Virginia were approved, and 26.7% (4 of 15) were defeated.

So far, 21 statewide ballot measures have been certified for the 2022 ballot in 12 states.

At the end of the West Virginia session, there were five constitutional amendments that had passed one chamber. Bills are carried over to the 2022 legislative session as long as the sponsor/sponsors remain in office during the next session, and the measure has not been rejected, tabled, or postponed indefinitely. The five outstanding amendments relate to education, term limits, firearms, and veterans.

The state legislature is set to convene on January 12, 2022, and adjourn on March 12, 2022.

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