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Stories about West Virginia

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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West Virginia enacts law creating intermediate appellate court

Governor Jim Justice (R) signed SB 275 into law on April 9 which provides guidelines for creating the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals, effective June 30, 2021. Previously, West Virginia’s state courts included a state supreme court of appeals and trial courts with both general and limited jurisdiction.

According to Metro News, a 2009 judicial reform panel recommended the creation of an intermediate court. West Virginia is one of nine states without an intermediate appellate court, and the supreme court of appeals serves as the only appellate court.

As outlined in SB 275, the court will consist of three judges elected to 10-year terms. The first three judges will be appointed, with the first judicial election being held in 2024. These elections will be nonpartisan.

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WV court rules in favor of governor’s legislative appointment

On Feb. 9, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia ruled in favor of Gov. Jim Justice’s (R) appointment to the West Virginia House of Delegates District 19. 

On Jan. 22, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee nominated Joshua Booth and two others to replace Rep. Derrick Evans (R), who resigned after being charged with entering a restricted public building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Gov. Justice approved the nomination and formally appointed Booth on Jan. 27.

According to West Virginia law, the executive committee of the political party that holds the seat can submit a list of three candidates to the governor in case of a vacancy. On Jan. 13, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee sent three names to Gov. Justice: Mark Ross, Chad Shaffer, and Jay Marcum.

Justice’s chief of staff, Brian Abraham, told the committee Justice wanted a new list of names because Acting Chairman of the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee Roman Stauffer was not involved in the original nomination process. The second nomination list included Mark Ross, Chad Shaffer, and Joshua Booth. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, after Justice formally appointed Booth on Jan. 27, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee petitioned the state’s court of last resort “to force the governor to choose from the first list of candidates submitted, saying state law doesn’t give the governor discretion to reject the list provided by local party executive committees.” On Feb. 9, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia heard the case and ruled in favor of Gov. Justice. Booth was sworn in the following day.

As of Feb. 11, there have been 23 state legislative vacancies in 18 states this year. Eight of those vacancies have been filled, with 15 vacancies remaining. Booth is one of three Republicans to fill vacancies from 2021. 

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New Mexico, West Virginia allow schools to reopen after holiday closures

Starting Jan. 19, all public and private pre-K, elementary, and middle schools in West Virginia were required to resume full-time in-person or hybrid (at least two in-person days every week) instruction, regardless of their county’s coronavirus transmission rates. High schools were still required to close if located in counties the Department of Health and Human Resources classified as red in the County Alert System map.

Schools in areas of New Mexico with lower coronavirus transmission rates were permitted to begin reopening for in-person or hybrid instruction on Jan. 18.  

New Mexico and West Virginia had ordered schools closed for in-person instruction since the beginning of January to mitigate holiday virus spread. 

The nationwide status of school closures and reopenings is as follows:

• Washington, D.C., had a district-ordered school closure.

• Six states (Calif., Del., Hawaii, N.C., N.M., W.Va.) had state-ordered regional school closures, required closures for certain grade levels, or allowed hybrid instruction only.

• Four states (Ark., Fla, Iowa, Texas) had state-ordered in-person instruction.

• Forty states left decisions to schools or districts.



Three state legislators switch parties in December

Ballotpedia has identified three state legislators who switched their party affiliation in December. One switched from Democrat to independent, one from Republican to Libertarian, and one from Democrat to Republican. 

• On Dec. 7, Georgia Rep. Valencia Stovall announced that she was leaving the Democratic Party to join the Independent party. In a Facebook post, Stovall cited misleading, disruptive behavior from both parties during the Nov. 3, 2020 election as her reasons for switching.

• On Dec. 11, West Virginia Rep. Jason Barrett announced that he was leaving the Democratic Party to join the Republican Party. After changing his party affiliation at the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, Barrett said, “For me to be able to be the most effective legislator I can be and really move good policy forward in West Virginia, I think that joining the Republican Party in West Virginia is a way to do that.”

• On Dec. 14, Maine Rep. John Andrews announced that he was leaving the Republican Party and joining the Libertarian Party of Maine. In a Facebook post on Dec. 12, Andrews cited House minority leader Kathleen Jackson Dillingham as his reason for leaving the party, saying, “My leaving the Republican party is a direct reflection of Kathleen Dillingham’s lack of leadership and vindictive nature. The House GOP is in severe lack of leadership.”

Ballotpedia also identified two state legislators—David Tomassoni and Thomas Bakk—who switched their partisan affiliation In November. Both are Minnesota state senators who left the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party to form an independent caucus. Both senators cited extreme partisanship at the national and state level and a desire to work across the aisle.

Since 1994, Ballotpedia has identified 131 legislators—37 state senators and 94 state representatives—who switched parties. Seventy-two switched from Democrat to Republican, 19 switched from Republican to Democrat, and the remainder switched to or from independent or other parties.

The map below shows the number of party switches by state. The most party switches took place in Mississippi, which had 15 state legislators switch parties since 1994. Thirteen Democrats switched to the Republican party, and two Democrats became independents.

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West Virginia state legislator resigns

On Oct. 3, Delegate John Mandt Jr. (R) resigned from the West Virginia House of Delegates. He announced his resignation following accusations that he made discriminatory social media posts against gay people and Muslims. 

As reported by Cumberland Times-News, Mandt responded to the accusations in a deleted Facebook post: “Everything electronic can be fabricated. It’s by design, my family, my business are being attacked.” On the night of his resignation, the West Virginia House of Delegates issued a statement in which Mandt said, “Right now, my focus and priority needs to be on my family and business, and feel it is best at this time to terminate my campaign and make room (for) other individuals to serve the state.” Mandt was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 2018.

Heading into the general election, the partisan composition of the West Virginia House of Delegates is 57 Republicans, 41 Democrats, one independent, and one vacancy. West Virginia has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. 

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Two West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals justices win reelection

Three West Virginia Supreme Court seats were up for nonpartisan election on June 9. The general election for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, along with West Virginia’s statewide primary election, was originally scheduled for May 12. Governor Jim Justice (R) postponed the election in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Two incumbent justices were seeking re-election while one justice did not seek re-election. Receiving 41% of the vote, incumbent Justice Tim Armstead defeated Richard Neely and David W. Hummel Jr. Incumbent Justice John A. Hutchison defeated Lora Dyer and William Schwartz with 39.2% of the vote.

Incumbent Margaret Workman did not seek re-election. William Wooton, a former Democratic member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, won the seat with 31% of the vote. He defeated Joanna I. Tabit, Kris Raynes, and Jim Douglas. Wooton will take office in January 2021.

As of May 2020, three judges on the court were appointed by a Republican governor, while two were first elected in partisan elections, one as a Democrat, and one as a Republican.

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Justice wins Republican primary for governor of West Virginia

Gov. Jim Justice defeated former Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher, former state Del. Mike Folk, and four others to win the Republican nomination for governor in West Virginia. As of 8:33 p.m. Eastern Time, Justice had received 66% of the vote to Thrasher’s 18% and Folk’s 9% with 8% of precincts reporting. None of the remaining candidates received over 5% of the vote.
Justice was first elected governor as a Democrat in 2016, defeating Bill Cole (R), 49% to 42%. He switched parties to become a Republican the following year. Justice is the sixth incumbent Republican governor to seek re-election in West Virginia’s history.
The race featured a high level of self-financing. According to campaign finance reports, Justice contributed $1.5 million to his campaign. Thrasher and Folk contributed roughly $3.4 million and $261,000 to their campaigns, respectively.
Justice was endorsed by President Donald Trump (R). In 2016, Trump won 68.6% of the vote in West Virginia, his largest vote share in any state in that presidential election.
Justice will face the winner of the Democratic primary in the November general election.


Salango wins West Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary

Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango defeated Douglas Hughes, Jody Murphy, Stephen Smith, and state Sen. Ron Stollings to win the Democratic primary for governor in West Virginia. As of 11:30 p.m. ET, Salango had received 39% of the vote. Smith was second with 33% and Stollings was third with 14%. No other candidate received more than 10% of the vote.
Salango served on the Kanawha County Commission since 2017. He said his record included creating union jobs, securing paid family leave, and helping seniors get hot meals. He said his priorities as governor would include education, job creation, healthcare, and addressing the opioid issue.
Democrats have won every gubernatorial election in West Virginia since 2000.
Salango will face incumbent Gov. Jim Justice (R) in the general election. Justice was elected in 2016 as a Democrat before switching to the Republican Party in 2017.