House votes to eliminate WV Women’s Commission

By LACIE PIERSON

The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates has voted to eliminate the West Virginia Women’s Commission.

The House voted 58-41 Thursday afternoon to terminate the commission and discontinue its functions through the Committee Substitute for House Bill 2646.

The West Virginia Women’s Commission was created by the West Virginia Legislature in 1977. The mission of the commission is to promote the status and empowerment of all West Virginia women through advocacy, research, education and consensus building, according to its website. The commission annually sponsors events aimed to teach women and girls advocacy, encourage involvement in the legislative process and provide information on educational opportunities for women.

Supporters of the bill said the elimination of the agency largely was for financial reasons and that the services provided by the commission were redundant. Del. Lynne Arvon, R-Raleigh, and vice chairwoman of the House Government Organization Committee, said the commission was one of several state agencies that was on the chopping block in an attempt to balance the budget.

“Our fellow West Virginians elected us to make these difficult, hard decisions in our state’s worst times of need,” Arvon said. “I’d say we are in that time of need.”

The legislature allocated a little less than $155,000 to the commission in fiscal year 2017, which began July 1, 2016. Members of the West Virginia Legislature are tasked with filling a $500 million budget gap that is forecast for fiscal year 2018, which will begin July 1, 2017.

Those speaking against the bill said the financial impact of eliminating the commission was minimal at best and that eliminating the commission sends a bad message to women in West Virginia as well as the rest of the country.

Del. Michael Ferro, D-Marshall, said even if the intention of the bill was to save the state money, the message it sent was not a positive one for underprivileged women in West Virginia.

“Perception is reality,” Ferro said. “The perception appears it’s a personal affront against women. … While we have Women’s History Month in the legislature, I think we are sending the wrong message to women.”

The bill will advance to the Senate for its consideration.

If signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice, the law would terminate the commission, effective June 30, 2018.

The West Virginia Women’s Commission will host the 2017 Women’s and Girls’ Day at the Legislature on Monday, March 27.

Local delegates voting to eliminate the commission were Dels. Carol Miller, R-Cabell; Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell; Chuck Romine, R-Cabell; and Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell. Local delegates voting to keep the commission were Dels. Ken Hicks, D-Wayne; Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell; Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell; and Robert Thompson, D-Wayne.

Sobonya was the only local delegate to speak to the bill during debate.

“I don’t give consideration to … anything that might make me different than any of you,” Sobonya said. “I don’t feel marginalized or inferior. I won seven consecutive races for the House of Delegates without attending any Women’s Commission training or forums.”

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