By WENDY HOLDREN
OAK HILL, W.Va. — Dozens of Fayette County residents filled the seats inside the Oak Hill Historic School Sunday afternoon to discuss a number of bills in the Legislature, but five seats in the front of the room remained notably empty.
Five white folding chairs at the front of the room were reserved for Sen. Ronald Miller, D-Greenbrier; Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe; Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette; Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette; and Delegate Shirley Love, D-Fayette. All were invited, but none attended.
Board members of Fayette Fair Share, a political action committee, continued the meeting regardless, sharing their thoughts on a number of bills making their way through the House and Senate — some they support and some they oppose.
“For a long time, we’ve wanted to share information about bills, to help people feel empowered to contact their legislators,” said board member Linda Stein. “This is an attempt to do that.”
Each attendee received a handout with contact information for all their local legislators, as well as Gov. Jim Justice. On the back side of the handout, 24 bills were listed, including the bill number, brief description of the bill, and whether Fayette Fair Share supports or opposes it.
Stein shared her concerns about House Bill 2132, which would impose work requirements for single, low-income Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries. She said sometimes these individuals simply cannot work because of health or transportation issues.
“It’s a much more complicated issue.”
Eddie Ingles, chairman of Fayette Fair Share, shared his concerns about potential legislation, Senate Bill 609, which would cut state funding to public education by roughly $79 million. One resident said Fayette County Schools would see a $600,000 cut under the bill.
“We need to talk to our representatives, and hopefully you’ll come away today a little more prepared to talk to them,” Ingles said.
Board member Selina Vickers noted the absences of the lawmakers, but she added, “That’s OK. We showed up.”
She also said the meeting was being recorded to share with the legislators, so they would be able to hear the residents’ comments.
Vickers shared her concerns about House Bill 2934, which would replace income tax brackets with a flat tax. She said residents with an income less than $84,000 would pay more income tax, whereas those with higher incomes would pay less.
She also spoke passionately about House Bill 2506, what the group dubbed the “Cancer Creek Bill,” which weakens water protections.
“People come from all over the world to play in our water,” Vickers said.
She pointed out Kessinger and Fast supported the bill. She also noted Kessinger has received campaign contributions from energy and coal companies.
Vickers shared with attendees a list of precautions from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources about fish consumption. Because industries can dump waste into certain areas of creeks and streams, the DNR recommends only consuming one fish per week or no fish at all from certain waterways.
“This is what our current situation is right now, and they’re wanting to allow more,” Vickers said. “A lot of these elements are known to be cancer-causing elements.”
Susie Worley Jenkins said she believes rafting companies should be speaking out against this legislation, too.
“I don’t see these people trying to help,” Jenkins said. “I don’t see any of the folks making any of the money participating whatsoever.”
Another resident said he believes the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is “using West Virginia for a dumping ground.”
Vickers added, “We’ve got to get good people in who are not beholden to big companies.”
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