Black leaders and allies gathered at the State Capitol on Feb. 15 to raise awareness on the pressing policy issues impacting Black West Virginians. The event gives a voice to the stories, experiences, and injustices the Black community faced and calls for collective action to create meaningful change.
“The policies being created in our state must reflect the needs and values of all its residents, especially the Black community,” said Katonya Hart, one of the event organizers. The coalitions supporting the event believe that it is only through collective action that progress toward a more just and equitable future can be achieved.
The event seeks to inform about the seven key policy areas of critical importance to the Black community, including criminal justice reform, healthcare, and education. These areas were identified based on input from more than 200 people surveyed for the agenda and reflect the unmet needs and harm inflicted upon the Black community.
“Our agenda is not just a list of policy priorities, but rather a call to action for all West Virginians to come together and work towards a better future for all,” said Dr. Shanequa Smith, one of the event organizers. The coalition called for West Virginians to join the fight for justice and equality and to work towards creating a state where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of the color of their skin.
The Black Policy Agenda is by no means exhaustive but is a start centered on the social determinants of health and is a step toward change through awareness and action.
Actionable bills to follow and advocate to get on agendas
CROWN Act or Make it illegal to discriminate based on hair texture or style
This legislation was introduced in 2023 as HB 2092 with Delegate Walker as the lead sponsor. It has been referred to the committee on government organization, then Judiciary. There has yet to be any movement on this bill.
Contact: Delegate Phillips
(Chair, Government Organization); Delegate Capito (Chair,Judiciary)
Regulating Allocation of Federal Funds to Counties and Local Municipalities
HB 3361 introduced by Delegates Rowe and Pushkin was modeled after The Tuesday Morning Group (TMG) Economic Justice, Fair & Equity Plan to allocate remaining American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds. The TMG plan aims to distribute $300 million of $678 million ARPA funds to local cities and counties based on the percentage of people living in poverty in West Virginia. These funds would support various projects.
The TMG suggests requesting a public hearing to explain why HB3361 does not contain the appropriate language to allocate funding to poverty census tracts and what the appropriate language should be.
Contact: The House Finance
Committee Chair, Vernon Criss, amended HB 3361 to include the TMG Plan.
Create a Small Business and Minority Populations Economic and Workforce Development Task Force
This legislation was introduced as SB 256 with Senator Jeffries as the lead sponsor. The bill has been reported from the Economic Development Committee and is sitting in Finance.
Contact: Senator Tarr (chair, finance)
Creating the WV Community Development Equity Fund
This legislation was introduced in 2023 as HB2202, with Delegate Hornbuckle as the lead sponsor. There has yet to be any action on this bill. It is referenced to Economic Development and Tourism, then Finance.
Contact: Delegate Howell (Chair, Economic Development, and Tourism); Delegate Criss (Chair, Finance)
School suspensions to be considered excused absences
This legislation was introduced in 2023 as HB 2636, with Delegate Hanna as the lead sponsor. It is referenced by the committee on Education. There has been no action on this bill.
Contact: Delegate Ellington (chair, Education)
Eliminate restrictions on voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals.
This legislation was introduced in 2022 as SB 488 with Senator Bill Hamilton as the lead sponsor.
The bill was reintroduced in 2023 as SB 235 with Senator Jeffries as the lead sponsor. The bill was debated in Judiciary but was not advanced to the floor.
Contact: Senator Trump (Chair, Senate Judiciary)
Medicaid Buy-in: allowing those above Medicaid expansion eligibility to keep their coverage by paying a small monthly premium based on their income
This legislation was introduced in 2023 as HB 3274 with Delegate Worrell as the lead sponsor. It is referred to the committee on Health and Human Resources, then Judiciary.
Contact: Delegate Summers (Chair, Health); Delegate Capito (Chair, Judiciary)