CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state House of Delegates passed a bill that would eliminate funding for the state Women’s Commission, amounting to about $155,000.

Delegates voted 58-41 in favor of the bill, with one member absent. It now goes to the state Senate. If the bill passes there and is signed by the governor, the Women’s Commission  would be de-funded by July 1, 2017.

Those who backed the bill said many of the duties performed by the Women’s Commission are also being performed by other state agencies or private organizations. Backers of the bill said women are largely able to stand on their own and that cash-strapped state government can’t afford much of what it once funded.

Opponents said the move signifies that the Legislature doesn’t value the contributions of women and that the Women’s Commission continues to perform vital functions.

Linda Longstreth

“I find the Women’s Commission very important. It costs so little to maintain it,” said Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion. “It brings women’s issues to the forefront. It is important. It’s important to women. It costs so little. It does nothing to hurt the budget.”

Longstreth noted that at least one female member of the House, Nancy Foster from Putnam County, had taken candidate training provided by the Women’s Commission.

Foster rose and talked about the experience while being asked questions by fellow Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette.

Foster acknowledged she took the Women’s Commission training but said that, largely, she had succeeded as a candidate on her own hard work and merits.

Kayla Kessinger

Kessinger, the lead sponsor of the bill, spoke out in favor of it.

“I want to encourage every member of this body not to be afraid to vote for this bill,” said Kessinger, whose family was watching from one of the balconies.

“A green vote means you recognize the severity of the financial situation this state is facing. With a projected budget gap of over $450 million, we have to make the necessary cuts to unnecessary programs.”

Delegate Michael Ferro, D-Marshall, spoke against de-funding the Women’s Commission, objecting to the symbolism of doing so.

“This bill might appear to be punitive to women around the state,” Ferro said. “I think the key word here is perception. I think we are sending the wrong message to the women of WV. Perception is reality. In Women’s History Month in the Legislature, I think we are sending the wrong message to women.”

When it was Kessinger’s turn to speak, she asked Ferro about his explanation for why the bill is needed.

“Why do you think women need a commission, but men don’t?” Kessinger asked.

The commission was established in 1977 and operates within the Department of Health and Human Resources. It is meant to promote the status and empowerment of all West Virginia women. Its duties include monitoring legislation affecting women, referring useful information, providing workshops and seminars and researching and recognizing women’s accomplishments.

Members of the commission are not paid, although they may be reimbursed for expenses. Over the years, the state Legislative Auditor’s office has concluded that the commission should be de-funded on the grounds that its activities are redundant to those offered elsewhere.

Lynne Arvon

Delegate Lynne Arvon, R-Raleigh, introduced third reading of the bill, explained her view of its purpose and spoke out in favor of its passage.

Arvon said the commission’s duties duplicate those performed by other institutions such as DHHR, the state’s education system, the Family Protection Services Board, the state Equal Opportunity Office, the Human Rights Commission, as well as private or charitable organizations.

“The purpose of this bill is not to attack women. The purpose of this bill is not to cheat women. This bill simply eliminates a state agency that is largely duplicative,” Arvon said. “The women’s commission is clearly a duplication of efforts. The state simply cannot afford in these tight budget times.”

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