By Matthew Young, RealWV
With the 2023 legislative session now in its penultimate week, Greenbrier County’s two Republican Delegates spoke with RealWV about several high-profile bills, including the “Campus Self-Defense Act,” PEIA reform, the Hope Scholarship, and potential tax reductions.
Despite some disagreements, such as funding for the Form Energy battery plant and allowing indoor tobacco use, Delegates Mike Honaker and Todd Longanacre share similar priorities. Both delegates voted in favor of prohibiting China from acquiring agricultural land in West Virginia, and to increase the penalties for criminal trespassing. Both voted to prevent minors from seeking gender reassignment surgery, and to create a memorial in honor of West Virginia’s “Fallen Heroes of the Global War on Terrorism.”
And both voted in favor of the “Campus Self-Defense Act.”
“I feel safe when I’m around good people with guns,” Longanacre told RealWV last week. “I know a lot of people do not share my feelings on this, obviously. But I see the world as having both good people and bad people.”
“If bad people are out there and they have the capability of ignoring the law, or ignore the tendencies they have to execute evil deeds on decent people trying to learn, I would like to think that the good people, who have exercised their 2nd Amendment right to be armed, would stop that bad person,” Longanacre noted. “I voted for the bill because I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t know when and where evil will strike.”
Another bill which has recently made its way through the Education Committee where Longanacre serves, but not yet to the Judiciary Committee, where Honaker serves, seeks to expand eligibility of the Hope Scholarship. Currently the scholarship is available only to students enrolled in one of West Virginia’s public schools. The new bill, which is currently awaiting consideration by the Finance Committee, would open eligibility to all of the state’s school-age children.
“This was a bill that Riley Moore (W.Va. State Treasurer) wanted,” Longanacre said. “(Hope Scholarship) is a new program, so we’re trying to clean it up a little bit.”
“But in the process of doing that (expanding Hope Scholarship eligibility), homeschoolers are saying, ‘We’re afraid of this bill,’” Longanacre added. “They’re saying, ‘The language in this bill holds us accountable to the state if we take the Hope Scholarship for our kids that we’re homeschooling. This bill could require us to have to take a test.’”
Longanacre believes a certain degree of accountability is reasonable.
“If you take the Hope Scholarship to go to a private school, or a learning pod, or a [private] charter school, you (student-recipient) are required by the stipulations in the code right now to take a test,” Longanacre noted. “You’re using money that could be spent in the public school system, so the least you can do is, at the end of the school year, you have your kid test. Or you show where the money is being spent at.”
“But the question then becomes should they be required?” Longanacre added. “Should that money come with strings attached like it does for the charter school and the private school people? That’s where the rub is right now in this bill. And for me, I’m kind of neutral on it. On the one hand, they still have the ability to homeschool their kids. On the other hand, if they’re part of the Hope Scholarship, they should have to fall in line with the same requirements that the other Hope Scholarship awardees have to meet.”
Though not yet having the opportunity to deliberate on the Hope Scholarship, the developing legislation seeking to address PEIA is something Honaker is watching closely. While the Senate passed their plan on Saturday, the House has yet to move forward with theirs.
“PEIA is a complete financial debacle,” Honaker said. “We’re just simply going to have to pass a bill and put a lot of funding into PEIA right now to make sure that it remains afloat, and keeps taking care of our state and local government employees.”
“PEIA has been on a significant slide since 2017,” Honaker added. “And if we don’t do something right now, by 2027, they will be $1 billion upside down.”
Lastly, the two delegates share what they both feel is the most pressing legislative priority.
“Right now my focus is on tax reduction, and getting a plan,” Honaker said. “Getting a plan on the table that the House, the Senate, and the governor agree on to bring people’s taxes down, should be among the most talked about things.”
Honaker expressed his concerns over the use of rebates in the current iteration of the plan, saying, “You end up having to employ people to work for the state government because somebody has to administer the rebate program. I personally don’t like the idea of rebates.”
“It seems like it would be more feasible to just simply reduce people’s income taxes to make sure they keep more of their money,” Honaker noted.
“Right now, on February 24, I still have no idea what we’re doing with taxes,” Honaker added. “I have no doubt that there will be an agreement between the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s Office before we leave here. But we’re two weeks away and don’t know what it is. It’s just a little frustrating to be this close and not know.”
Longanacre shares that frustration, saying, “It’s (tax reduction) been three years in the making. I will support any kind of tax reduction reform I can vote for at this point.”
The legislative session will conclude at midnight on March 11. With Wednesday being the last day for bills to be considered on third reading within their house of origin (either the Senate or House of Delegates), time is running short.
“I realize we’ve got all kinds of social issues still going on, and there’s some important education initiatives,” Honaker concluded. “But the income tax and the situation with PEIA – the state’s financial situation – is what I’m really most focused on coming into these last two weeks.”