By April 7, 2017 Read More →

WV Senate joins House in passing bill to kill Women’s Commission

By ERIN BECK

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Given about $40,000 a year in 1977 and charged with improving “the broad status of women in society,” the West Virginia Women’s Commission was called by some a “program to fail” at the time.

Forty years later, both the House and Senate in the West Virginia Legislature, which with days to go in the Legislative session still has not approved a budget, both have voted to terminate the state agency, now a division of the Department of Health and Human Resources that gets about $150,000 a year.

House Bill 2646, terminating the West Virginia Women’s Commission, is sponsored by Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette. Kessinger and other Republican women have led the charge, and the votes in the House and Senate, both Republican-led bodies, have been mostly party line.

With 18 women, the 134-member Legislature has its lowest number of women since 1984. Of the 18 women, 16 are Republicans.

The House of Delegates passed the bill — its first budget cut of the session — in a 58-41 vote about a month ago.

The West Virginia State Senate passed the bill in a 24-10 vote early Thursday afternoon. Sens. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, and Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, crossed party lines to vote with the Republicans. The legislation would take effect June 30, 2018, assuming the House concurs with an amended title, and it is signed by the governor.

Prior to the vote, Sen. Sue Cline, R-Wyoming, said that the commission performs duplicative functions, then stated that “men don’t need a commission to help them run for office or host candidate trainings, so why do women need that?”

Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said, “I don’t think there’s any need for the women’s commission anymore.”

According to state code, the women’s commission is responsible for reviewing and studying the status of women in West Virginia and recommending methods of overcoming discrimination against women in public and private employment and in the exercise of their civil and political rights. It is the only state agency mandated to do so. Stacy North, chairwoman for the commission, has said those recommendations typically are “taken with a grain of salt.”

The organization also holds educational events. Last month, more than 100 girls attended its Women’s and Girls’ Day at the Legislature.

“I find it particularly troubling that the women who sponsored this bill in the House are completely unaware of what the Women’s Commission does,” North said Thursday. “These ladies cited duplicative services as their major reason for termination but could not name one duplicative service; when asked, indeed, they cited services that the Commission does not provide.”

The women’s commission has not been audited since 2006. At the time, auditors stated that the women’s commission was duplicating other state and federal agencies’ functions “to some extent.”

The legislative auditor also found “that the current funding for the Commission is inadequate for it to be effective,” adding that funding should be significantly increased or the agency should be terminated. The commission is budgeted for 1.5 employees, but currently only employs one half-time person, who is also the executive director of the James “Tiger” Morton Catastrophic Illness Commission.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, West Virginia had the 49th largest wage gap in the United States in 2015. In West Virginia, a woman made 71 cents for every dollar a man made, compared to about 80 cents nationally.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, non-elderly adult women are about 23 percent more likely to live in poverty in the state. About 13 percent of men live in poverty, compared to about 16 percent of women.

In 2015, West Virginia ranked 46th for women who voted, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

North noted that information about upcoming candidate trainings is available at www.ocofwv.org/candidatetraining.

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