MORGANTOWN — An advocacy group at WVU continues to grow but it wants more residents of North Central West Virginia to know who they are and what they do.
That’s why the WVU Advocacy Team is hosting a virtual town hall this Friday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Advocacy Team member Leann Williams said the town hall hopes to raise awareness about what’s been happening during the legislative session.
“[The Legislature is] not open to the public still so we thought if we can’t make have conversations with lawmakers we’ll have conversations with citizens about what’s happening and make them aware of what’s happening,” said Williams.
A focus of the town hall will be the state income tax repeal, as well as marijuana rights and legalization.
“Currently the House and the Senate are debating it and Jim Justice said he’s ready for it so that’s a big issue coming up,” said Williams.
Voting rights will also be a topic of discussion given it’s been a national issue. Transparency within the legislature is an issue Williams said that needs addressed. She cited the passage of HB 3300 in the house this week and there were no fiscal notes attached to it yet it passed.
“These issues we see everyday and we want citizens to know about them. They’ve had public hearings over the income tax repeal but a lot of people just don’t know the issues happening and they’re changing so fast,” said Williams.
Williams said given the legislative session is almost over she and other students want their voices to be heard.
“We want anybody who’s interested in any of these issues to come,” said Williams.
There will also be speakers at the town hall such as Rusty Williams who is a patient advocate for the WV Medical Cannabis Advisory Board who will be speaking on cannabis issues.
Shelby Johnson, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at WVU, said a group of students have been working to influence policy in the West Virginia Legislature this year on such issues as a West Virginia Public Bank and campus carry laws.
“Our town hall is basically going to facilitate a discussion around these topics,” said Johnson.
Johnson said campus carry is relevant to her and other students. She said studies show that schools that pass these policies see more unnecessary violence and put the community at greater risk.
The students also believe that cannabis reform for both medical and recreational use would be a good way to bring economic development to West Virginia.
“It would attract people to our state; it would bring in tax revenue if it was recreationally legal. It would also be a good way to also make up for the lost revenue of the elimination of the personal income tax,” said Johnson.
The income tax repeal is important to the group of students because the revenue it brings in accounts for such a large part of the state budget. The West Virginia State Bank initiative is a public bank owned by the state and funded with public money.
“The idea is that this bank would keep West Virginia dollars in the state,” said Johnson.
For example, if a farmer wanted to get a loan for a piece of equipment, he could go through the West Virginia State Bank and could get a lower interest rate and the interest payments would stay in the state.
“We honestly would really like to fund a study on it because it’s in the preliminary phase of being created...we really want to study that and figure out what the impact would be for West Virginia,” said Johnson.
A lifelong resident of West Virginian, Johnson said it’s been amazing and energizing to advocate for these issues. She said to fight for things that will help real West Virginians is nice. She said working with the Advocacy Team has been amazing.
“Last year we were able to take trips down to Charleston, go to the Capitol and talk one-on-one with legislators and actually get things moving,” said Johnson.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, this year the Capitol is not open to the public.
“We have adapted to speak with these lawmakers virtually, through email, through Zoom and it’s just been really awesome,” said Johnson.
For more information visit www.wvuadvocacyteam.com