CHARLESTON, WV (LOOTPRESS) – It is likely to be a legislative session like no other. When 134 legislators convened today at the state capitol, the Covid-19 pandemic was still raging meaning “unusual is the new normal.”
That’s how Lincoln County Republican Delegate Zach Maynard summed it up earlier in the week.
Legislative leaders in both houses that are overwhelmingly Republican insist they will follow Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines during the 60-day session. Some Democrats aren’t so sure.
“They say they’ll enforce social distancing,” said Boone County Democrat Senator Ron Stollings. “But we all know politicians like to backslap and be up close and personal. Some legislators have already said they don’t intend to wear masks.”
In addition to his role as a senator, Stollings is a practicing medical doctor in Madison. He recommends caution.
“I’ve suggested we do our constitutional duty to convene and accept the Governor’s proposed budget and listen to his agenda,” the senator said.
“Then we should recess, do as much as we can remotely and reconvene when we’ve got this thing (Covid) under control.”
But Republicans aren’t buying that. They cite their super majorities in both the house and senate as indication that “the voters want our agenda enacted,” according to one GOP House member.
Governor Jim Justice will deliver his 2021 State of the State Address at 7 pm this evening. It will be televised and streamed on various outlets.
Although Justice is technically already a lame duck, he appears to be at the top of the political mountain. Just off a landslide re-election victory, Justice has not been challenged by the state legislature since he effectively began handling the pandemic by executive orders a year ago. Sufficient numbers of House members signed petitions calling for a special session to oversee Justice but not enough senators signed.
A day before the session began, the state Supreme Court upheld the Governor’s controversial appointment of a House replacement in the 19th District. The decision re-enforced that Justice is the one in charge of state government.
“He’s got the legislature and the supreme court both in his pocket,” said a Kanawha County politico. “He really is King James I.”
The capitol is still closed to the public, except for those with appointments and other official business.
From the legislative side, calls for eliminating the state income tax have been prevalent. Details will need to be worked out if it passes, such as a “phase out period.”
The Governor will outline his program during tonight’s address.
He will likely introduce former Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who has been hired as director of the state Development Office. News of Carmichael’s hiring leaked last week after Justice had planned to make it a major part of his address.
The appointment of Carmichael is controversial since the Jackson County Republican lost re-nomination by a lopsided margin to a political newcomer in 2020.
The former Senate President was identified by teachers as a main target of their political wrath following two teacher strikes.
As has been the case for several years, expansion of broadband in the state is expected to be a major theme of Justice’s comments.
“There are very few things in the House for which we can get unanimity easier than proposals to expand broadband in the state of West Virginia,” Speaker Roger Hanshaw of Clay County said during a legislative preview last week.
Check with lootpress.com for the latest legislative developments.