Blackwater Canyon Bill Proposed in Student Legislature
Lessons in Democracy, West Virginia Style
(Even Student Governor in Camp of Big Coal!)
By Monica Elkinton
I recently attended the HI-Y Youth In Government (YG) program in Charleston held April 23-25, 1999. HI-Y is YMCA for high schoolers, and Youth in Government is a wonderful program where students from all over the state get to participate in a Model Legislature and a Model Supreme Court. Students can sign up to be Senators, Delegates, Lobbyists, Press, Pages, and be elected Officers (Legislative Clerks, Chaplains, Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, Youth Governor, and Youth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court). The Model Sessions take place in the real chambers in Charleston; we get to sit in the real Senate, House of Delegates, and Supreme Court desks, and meet in real committee rooms in the Capitol.
Every pair of legislators from the same HI-Y chapter presents a bill. My bill was to have the State of West Virginia buy the Blackwater Canyon from Allegheny Wood Products and add it to the current Blackwater Falls State Park using funds from a 1% increase in the Hotel/Motel tax and sale of maps, guides, and recreational equipment to be used in the canyon.
Although it passed the House with only six of 71 Delegates voting against out bill, our most un-esteemed Youth Governor, Mr. Jonathon Bandy of Williamson, vetoed it for apparently no reason. (He did sign, however, a really stupid bill forbidding the EPA from halting Mountain Top Removal mining permits if environmental groups file suits against them.)
We decided to try to override the Governorís veto. I was given four minutes to speak in favor of overriding, and then a member of the Governorís Cabinet or the Governor himself could speak for four minutes against it. I got through most of a fact sheet I had procured from Julian at the MTR Mega-Rally April 24 at the Capitol, but no one from the Governorís office even bothered to show up.
Unfortunately, many delegates apparently changed their mind regarding the bill (some due to some petty rivalries, I think, and the Williamson delegation possibly supporting Bandy), and we lost the override by less than ten votes.
Iím not sure how most of the following turned out because they werenít in my house and I forgot to check, but some other environment- related proposed legislation included:
--A severance tax on timber (defeated on floor, I think)
--A bill to privatize concessions on State Park land
--A bill encouraging citizens to fence out wildlife and shoot in the air to scare them away instead of "just shooting them dead"
--A bill to ban Mountain Top Removal Mining altogether (defeated in committee)
--A bill mandating total reclamation of timbered land
--A bill mandating an impact study to be filed at the WV Office of Surface Mining for every MTR site including, but not limited to, flora and fauna of the area, possible ecosystem changes, and location, contents, and possible effects on streams and acid mine drainage.
All bills passed by either house, whether signed or not, end up on Governor Underwoodís desk after we finish. So even if our bill was vetoed, at least we got some word out about the issue. I was in committee with several students from Tucker County, and they strongly supported it.
The conference was an amazing experience. I urge any student that has a local HI-Y chapter or a local YMCA to find out about YG and go. I now know what kind of debate goes on in committees, what the facilities are like for real-life lawmakers, and how people form coalitions to support some bills. (I also found out first-hand how ignorant some lawmakers can be!)
I definitely gained a lot from attending Youth in Government, and I hope the Blackwater Canyon did too. Thanks goes out to my mom (Linda Cooper), Vivian Stockman, Judy Rodd, and Julian Martin for providing me with research information, lobbying materials, and answers to my questions. It was a wonderful experience, and I did accomplish my goal because more young people now know and care about the issue.