The upcoming legislative session will have a different tone than any other in the state’s history.
With the official start of the regular session just one-month away, many questions about how that session will proceed remains a mystery. As of today, one out of every 90 people in West Virginia are positive for COVID-19.
With statistics of that nature, the Capitol is bound to have different set-up and feel than in years past. For example, there are rumors that when the session begins many of the house members will be forced to participate from the House galleries, as floor space will be limited.
Additionally, there has been speculation that major committee meetings will occur virtually, while minor committees may not meet at all. The only thing that seems certain (for now) is that the legislature will convene on January 13, 2021 to select leadership and return on February 10, 2021 to begin its work in earnest.
While the legislators have been away from the Capitol, work has continued. Recently, both caucuses of the House and Senate met to select a candidate from each chamber for each party to be placed in consideration for leadership roles in the respective chambers.
The Senate Republicans chose businessman Craig Blair to lead that group, while Senate Democrats chose Pastor Stephen Baldwin. In the House, Republicans selected Roger Hanshaw, a lawyer and current speaker of the house, while House Democrats chose businessman Doug Skaff, Jr.
That leadership group, while bound to clash over some issues, is fairly conservative in nature. Two issues that will receive prompt attention in session are tax reform and the scope in which the executive branch can exercise its power without calling the legislature into session during a state of emergency.
First, you are likely to see a repeal of the business inventory tax. Recently, the Tax Foundation released its annual State Business Tax Climate Index. West
Virginia ranked 22nd out of the 50 states. The report ranks states on property taxes, unemployment insurance taxes, corporate and individual taxes and sales tax.
There is a belief among a lot of legislators that the business inventory tax hinders West Virginia and removal could improve its ranking. The theory is the better the tax climate, the more likely business will relocate to West Virginia.
While that is an important part of the equation, the tax system alone is not the real reason businesses consistently fail to call West Virginia their home. One could point to the lack of drug free workforce, lack of reliable broadband, and suitable infrastructure as the main culprits for lack of business.
Until those issues are resolved, West Virginia will continue to struggle. Another growing contingency for both Republican and Democrat is legislators want to focus on limiting the power of the Governor during a pandemic.
Many lawmakers believe that Governor Justice has exceeded his power during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor has refused to call a special legislative session to allow input on things such as how money is spent and efforts to keep schools open.
While it is easy to be an armchair quarterback, I am sure there will be a healthy debate about the issue. As the session approaches, please feel free to contact me directly to discuss issues important to you.
I want to advance our issues and make sure our District succeeds.