Editorials, Opinion

Legislature seeks to concentrate power

Last week, David Beard did a series of articles on the four amendments that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot: Amendment 1, “Clarification of the Judiciary’s Role in Impeachment Proceedings”; Amendment 2, “Property Tax Modernization”; Amendment 3, “Incorporation of Churches or Religious Denominations”; and Amendment 4, “Education Accountability.”

Since we’ve covered Amendment 2 extensively in our editorials, today and tomorrow we’ll focus on the remaining three amendments.

While Amendment 2 is arguably the most controversial, voters should also be wary of Amendments 1 and 4.

Amendment 1 adds the following language to the state code governing impeachment: “No court of this state has any authority or jurisdiction, by writ or otherwise, to intercede or intervene in, or interfere with, any impeachment proceedings of the House of Delegates or the Senate conducted hereunder; nor is any judgment rendered by the Senate following a trial of impeachment reviewable by any court of this state.”

This amendment comes out of the Legislature’s 2018 attempt to impeach all the sitting West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals justices for excessive spending (hundreds of thousands of dollars to “renovate” their offices and chambers, including a $32,000 couch).

Four of the five judges were impeached by the House of Delegates (one resigned before impeachment). One of the justices sued to have the impeachment against her stopped. A substitute court heard her case, reviewed the impeachment procedure and ruled that the House had violated the former justice’s right to due process as well as the House’s own rules for the impeachment procedure. In light of that, the substitute court threw out the impeachments of that justice and two others.

The Legislature, of course, was not pleased to say the least. But as the substitute court said in its ruling, its decision was not whether a justice could or should be impeached; its decision was that all impeachment procedures must be followed properly.

If voters approve Amendment 1, there will be no check on the Legislature if it decides to impeach someone; there will be no entity to ensure defendants’ constitutional rights are respected and the process followed according to law; and there will be nothing to prevent the Legislature from impeaching an official in retaliation.

As for Amendment 4, it’s much like Amendment 2 in that the Legislature is trying to seize power that does not belong to it.

According to the West Virginia Constitution, “the general supervision of the free schools of the State is vested in the West Virginia Board of Education.” Amendment 4 would add the following language: “Under its supervisory duties, the West Virginia Board of Education may promulgate rules or policies which shall be submitted to the Legislature for its review and approval, amendment, or rejection, in whole or in part, in the manner prescribed by general law.”

Essentially, the Board of Education would have to get the Legislature’s approval for anything and everything.

The members of the state board made several valid points in their objection: If every policy and decision has to be approved by the Legislature, the board of education won’t be able to respond swiftly to situations as they arise; the Legislature only meets for 60 days, but the board meets monthly, year-round; and the Legislature changes every two years, so our school system would become subject to a constantly changing political system.

We’ll add that Amendment 4 would allow the Legislature to hold schools’ day-to-day needs hostage to force schools to engage in culture-war politics. The Legislature does enough to meddle in schools’ affairs. It doesn’t need — and shouldn’t have — the power over everyday decisions regarding children’s school experience.