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Amendments 1, 3, 4 fail

Constitutional amendments were headed toward defeat as results came in Election Night.

With more than three-quarters of all precincts across the state reporting, Amendment 1 on impeachment powers was being voted down 219,792 to 157,161. Amendment 2, the highest profile measure about property taxes, was being defeated 253,913 to 133,474.

Amendment 3, which drew very little criticism, to allow religious institutions to incorporate, was being defeated 203,642 to 168,572. And Amendment 4, which would have given legislators greater oversight of state educational policies, was being defeated 223,710 to 158,215.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said he was particularly glad for the defeat of Amendments 2 and 4.

“WVEA is pleased that the citizens of our state have rejected Constitutional Amendments 2 and 4. Voters clearly saw through the power grab from the Legislature to reward large corporate donors and to continue their assault on public education and education employees,” Lee said Tuesday night.

“Local control is one of cornerstones of our county government and local school system. Rejecting the proposed amendments will allow that local control to continue.”

Kelly Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, specifically praised the voters’ defeat of Amendments 2 and 4.

“These results are a win for West Virginia workers, families, students and teachers. Together, West Virginians rejected the flawed premise that tax giveaways to out-of-state corporations would bring prosperity to our communities,” Allen said.

“Voters prioritized local control and funding for our schools, fire departments, emergency response and libraries, as well as the jobs they create. And they said no to politicizing our classrooms by taking education decisions away from education experts and giving them to partisan politicians.”

Amendment 1 clarified that the judiciary has no sway over the legislative branch’s impeachment powers.

The summary was, “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.”

The question arose when West Virginia’s Legislature impeached the entire state Supreme Court in 2018 over a range of financial issues. Justice Margaret Workman sought to halt impeachment trial proceedings in the state Senate.

Workman’s lawsuit challenged whether lawmakers appropriately followed their own procedures and raised a separation-of-powers issue over the court system’s own constitutional authority.

As the challenge was being considered, West Virginia’s actual Supreme Court justices recused themselves and a set of circuit judges sitting in as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Workman.

The fill-in court addressed the question of its authority, saying that while impeachment is clearly a legislative power, there needs to be a stopgap when questions arise over whether legislative oversight has sloshed into the judiciary.

That highlighted another question that was in front of voters: If the West Virginia Constitution gives the power of impeachment specifically to the legislative branch, then can another branch, the judiciary, interfere?

Amendment 3 asked West Virginia voters whether religious institutions should be allowed to incorporate. West Virginia is the only state in the country that does not allow that.

That’s because the state inherited the provision from Virginia and never changed it. Virginia made its own change 20 years ago after the limitation was struck down by a federal judge.

The summary is simply: “To authorize the incorporation of churches or religious denominations.”

Amendment 4 specified that the Legislature, which has authority over the rules for most state agencies, would gain the same sway over the state Department of Education’s regulations and guidelines.

A big factor is that the constitution already gives general supervisory authority to the state Board of Education. That resulted from an earlier amendment in 1958.

The state board is meant to be made up of citizens from different regions of the state appointed by the governor for overlapping nine-year terms. Those terms are meant to be long enough for members to gain expertise, provide steadying influence and to be relatively immune from the ins and outs of politics.

West Virginia’s Republican legislative majorities want to be assured that when they pass laws about educational policy in West Virginia the laws are then carried out as intended by the Department of Education.

The summary of Amendment 4 said: “The purpose of this amendment  is to clarify that the rules and policies promulgated by the State Board of Education, are subject to legislative review, approval, amendment, or rejection.”