Political Subdivisions looks at definition of “disaster”
By Lexi Browning
For the West Virginia Press Association
Monuments and memorials around the Mountain State would have another level of protect if a bill being considered by the House of Delegates’ Political Subdivisions Committee eventually passes through the West Virginia Legislature.
House Bill 2515 would prohibit removal and desecration of any statues, nameplates, plaques, buildings or parks that have relations to military history, labor union movements, mine wars, civil rights movements and Native American history.
The legislation was sent to subcommittee for further review. It would require a permit from the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office to remove or rededicate a memorial site or monument. The proposed legislation would apply to sites erected before Jan. 1, 1970 and those lawfully dedicated after 1970.
Del. Gary Howell, R-Mineral, said he sponsored the legislation after fellow members of the Sons of the American Revolution suggested the bill, which was initially introduced last year.
“At the time the request to introduce it came, there was a national movement to remove or change monuments,” Howell said. “The Monument Bill was designed to protect memorials that the original installers could no longer defend. These were important people or events to them, and we should respect their wishes even though interpretations may have changed with time.”
Protecting history in any form, Howell said, is crucial for learning purposes.
“I introduced a bill that passed a few years ago that is now law to protect historic re-enactors, like those at Harpers Ferry, for the same reasons: to keep history alive and to learn from it so we can repeat the good and not the bad,” Howell said.
The committee, chaired by Delegate Erikka Storch, R-3rd, also passed an amendment revising the language of House Bill 2434, also sponsored by Howell, which requires reevaluation of property value affected by a natural disaster for taxation.
The language amended removed the term “natural” from the proposed legislation, using “disaster” as defined in Chapter 15, of West Virginia Code, which includes “any natural or terrorist or man-made cause” or “public calamity requiring emergency action.”
Although his region was not affected by the 2016 flooding, Howell said the cause was personal, citing the Flood of 1985, in which 29 West Virginia counties were declared disaster areas.
“I have personally witnessed friends losing everything,” Howell said. “I have friends on social media that do live in the affect area. The goal of the bill is simply to make sure someone that has lost their home does not receive a tax bill for something that is gone.”
Taxing property that was completely lost or irreparably damaged would add insult to the injury, Howell said.
“I sought out co-sponsors for the bill only from affect areas of last summer’s floods,” Howell said. “The state’s property tax is retroactive; it is not what you own now, but what you did own. If you lose your home in a natural disaster, then you will still owe taxes on it even though you may have lost everything. This bill will show compassion for those who have lost everything.”
H.B. 2434 was also moved to subcommittee for further review.