Week eight of the legislative session has come and gone leaving only ONE week of the 2022 regular legislative session left!
This week started out with one final push to see the “Religious Liberty Legislation” passed onto the floor for consideration. Senator Amy Grady is the lead sponsor of SB416 and I am the lead sponsor of HB4628. These two bills are identical. The bills aim to protect religious practices in our State.
Our Federal Government originally passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. However, in 1997 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act did not apply to state laws. As a result of this ruling 31 states have since passed some version of the legislation for state protections.
So, what is the “Religious Liberty Legislation?” The legislation simply provides a shield of protection for individuals in cases where the government passes laws that would interfere with religious practices. The legislation provides a two-part legal test in such circumstances. First, does the state have a “compelling state interest” in the interference of said religious practices? Secondly, is the state acting in the “least restrictive means possible?”
Our bill in West Virginia also adds a second protection for religious liberty. The bill will prevent the state from treating religious conduct more restrictively than comparable (non-religious) conduct because of alleged economic benefit. This will prevent the state from ordering churches to close their doors but allowing casinos to stay open. Unfunctionally, that exact scenario happened throughout our country during the pandemic.
This “Religious Liberty Legislation” NEEDS passed in West Virginia! We almost saw it passed this year. I would like to say thank you to the vast number of people to worked to get this bill as far as it went! I am confident that we can see this bill passed into law next year which will align us with a majority of states who have made the decision to protect religious conduct.
Do we really Back the Blue? Time will tell… Currently in our state legislature we have two bills that will increase pay for our police officers. SB172 will increase the pay scale for Sheriffs in West Virginia (actually all elected county officials). SB531 is the Governor’s 5% pay raise to all state employees. SB531 has been amended in the House Finance committee to include a $10,000 pay raise for State Police Officers in West Virginia.
I have been a strong supporter of both bills. I once heard a quote that said, “You can tell someone’s priorities by their pocketbook.” This quote is applicable for our State government. Our Sheriffs and Troopers are underpaid. We are quickly approaching nearly ONE BILLION DOLLARS in our State surplus fund. Why would we not take this opportunity to better pay these public servants who put their lives on the line for our safety? I will do everything possible to see these bills passed into law this year!
WE have one more week left in Charleston. Many decisions will be made this week that will determine if the bills I have written about since January will become law.
I am thankful for the opportunity to serve you in Charleston. Please feel free to contact me anytime!
Until Next Week, Keep Smiling!
Delegate Jonathan Pinson (R) represents the 13th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.