W.Va. Legislature wraps up hectic first week of 2023 Regular Session

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – It has been a busy week for state lawmakers as they have again descended upon the capital to conduct the business of West Virginia. And while the opening of the 86th Legislature has been unconventional, it has not been unexpected. 

The Senate started the session off with a bang on Wednesday. By suspending the constitutional-rules requiring that all proposed legislation be read three different times on three separate days, the Senate was able to hastily advance 23 bills. 

“When we show up to work, we’re ready to start on time and get the job done immediately,” Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said after Wednesday’s floor session. Blair cited the looming PEIA crisis and “fixing DHHR” as justification for disregarding both tradition, and constitutional-rule, adding, “I’m proud of the leadership we showed as a body today.”

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.

In addition to PEIA and DHHR, the Senate advanced bills which seek to limit the governor’s authority, require that certain criminal offenders undergo psychological treatment to obtain eligibility for parole, and exempt certain organizations from paying property taxes. And while Blair expressed his pride in the Senate’s display of “leadership,” not every member of the body was in agreement with the haste in which all bills were pushed through. 

Senate Minority Leader Michael Woelfel, D-Cabell, now one of only three remaining Senate Democrats, didn’t believe there was a need to “speed through the process,” adding, “I think we’re sacrificing transparency.”

Senate Minority Leader Michael Woelfel, D-Cabell.

For a complete list of Senate bills introduced on Wednesday, see RealWV’s previous coverage. For an in-depth breakdown of bills discussed this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, click here to read reporting from the WV Press Association’s Autumn Shelton. 

As for the House of Delegates, 548 bills were introduced, including HB 2002 – which seeks to provide a tax credit of up to $4,000 for “nonfamily adoptions.”

“We know this bill will require more work and fine tuning,” Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, said. “The House is committed to supporting life and supporting families, so I’m happy we were able to get it moving.”

Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor.

Also introduced to the House this week was HB 2526, which seeks to adopt Gov. Jim Justice’s fiscal year (FY) 2024 budget proposal. The bill was approved by the House Finance Committee on Thursday, and will now move to the next stage of the process. The budget proposal – complete with the largest tax reduction in the state’s history – was unveiled on Wednesday as part of Justice’s State of the State address. Read more about the governor’s budget here.

“The personal income tax (PIT), seems like we’ve been talking about this for three or four years,” House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, said during a media conference on Thursday, in response to Justice’s proposal for a 50% PIT reduction over the next three years. “We have three different chambers talking about three different things. But it sounds like we are going to have some form of tax relief. What we are going to focus on in the Democratic caucus is making sure that relief goes back to the people of West Virginia.” 

House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha.

While delivering his State of the State address Wednesday evening, Justice referred to his tax cut proposal as “cannonballing into the pool.” 

“By God, I’ll make a big splash,” Justice said at the time of his announcement, “I’ll promise you that.”

Justice’s plan features a 30% PIT reduction in the first year, then a 10% reduction each year for the next two years. HB 2526 is expected to move to the House Floor this week for debate. Should the proposed tax cut be enacted, the 30% PIT reduction would take effect in June of this year. 

The RealWV will provide continual legislative updates through the 2023 Regular Session. 

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