WVSPS 2019 Legislative Session Preview
The following is not a political message. It is a legislative update from our government relations consultant. It is not intended to promote or oppose any political party, idea or agenda. It is simply intended to factually inform the society of current issues and conditions that exist in the legislature, so we can most effectively gauge our legislative activities going forward.
Please allow this correspondence to serve as an update regarding the first session of the 84th West Virginia Legislature.
This legislative session, the House and Senate both have smaller Republican majorities, but the respective leadership teams of those chambers share a legislative vision. The 2018 legislative session was slowed down by the statewide teacher’s strike. Another teacher strike seems highly unlikely, as Governor Justice has indicated he would like to give teachers another 5 percent pay increase.
Whether legislative leaders acquiesce to the second such increase in as many years remains to be seen. Furthermore, the budget surplus and consistent increases in revenue collection puts state government in a much healthier fiscal situation compared to recent years which have seen lengthy budget negotiations. Legislative leaders will have to decide how best to use the state’s revenue surplus, which already has various constituencies vying for a piece of the pie.
B. Important Dates
Dates loom large in the Legislature because a bill’s failure to timely survive a deadline results in its defeat, with the exception of budget and supplementary appropriations bills. So, here’s a list of the important dates in 2019:
January 9th – First day of legislative session.
January 28th – Legislative Rulemaking review bills are due
February 12th – Last day to introduce bills in the House
February 18th – Last day to introduce bills in the Senate
February 24th – Bills due out of committees from house of origin
February 27th – Last day to consider a bill on third reading in its house of origin.
March 9th – Last day of regular session, adjourns sine die at midnight.
C. Legislative Composition
The West Virginia House consists of 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats, with nearly one third of the entire chamber now being comprised of newly-elected members. Republicans lost 10 seats in total, while picking up 5 seats previously held by Democrats, for a net loss of 5 seats.
For the first time in state history, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw has selected a woman, Amy Summers of Taylor County, to serve as Majority Leader. In addition, Kayla Kessinger of Fayette County will serve as Assistant Majority Leader and Paul Espinosa – outgoing Education Chairman from Jefferson County – will serve as Majority Whip. Speaker Hanshaw has assembled a dynamic leadership team from around the state with a diverse skill set.
By way of background, Roger Hanshaw is an attorney and holds a PhD in chemistry as well as being a certified Parliamentarian. Amy Summers is a registered nurse, former county medical examiner, and a farmer. Paul Espinosa has a business background in the banking and telecommunications industries. Kayla Kessinger brings youth to the leadership team at just 26 years old, so she is well-respected by the younger members of the caucus.
The 34-member State Senate is now comprised of 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats, a gain of 2 seats for Democrats. Republicans lost Majority Leader Ryan Ferns of District 1 and Senator Ed Gaunch of District 8 and successfully defended three seats — districts 4, 9 and 11.
The new Majority Leader of the State Senate is Dr. Tom Takubo of Charleston, a practicing pulmonologist. Senator Takubo is seen as someone who can work with Democrats and Republicans, so his leadership is expected to result in a new spirit of bipartisanship in the Senate. Senator Takubo’s training as a medical doctor means he has a good bedside manner, so to speak.
The only other new appointee to a Senate leadership position at this time is Senator Patricia Rucker from Jefferson County, who will replace Kenny Mann as the Chair of the Education Committee. Senator Rucker is a former school teacher who should fare well in her new role. With Senator Gaunch’s loss, the Senate Committee on Government Organizations has vacancy for Senate President Mitch Carmichael to fill.
D. Legislative Priorities
Speaker Hanshaw wants to create a more business-friendly atmosphere, and make West Virginia the best place possible to live, work, and raise a family. As a leader, it’s anticipated that he will take a commonsense approach driven by facts and data as opposed to ideology or personal motives, although he is a strong conservative member and has always voted as such. A major emphasis of the House under his control will be putting the rulemaking burden entirely on elected officials and not state agencies or their employees.
Broadband expansion is another area of emphasis for House policymakers. Last year, now-Speaker Roger Hanshaw (then vice-chairman of House Judiciary) was the lead sponsor of House Bill 3093 which allowed communities to create a co-op system to assist in providing internet access to rural areas across the Mountain State. Both Hanshaw and Senate President Carmichael are passionate about this issue.
Judiciary Chairman John Shott’s main goal is reducing or eliminating barriers to employment, whether those burdens be excessive regulation, excessive taxation or unnecessary occupational licensing. The much-maligned business and inventory tax is at the top of Shott’s list. However, eliminating the business and inventory tax doesn’t end with a legislative enactment; any legislation passed will result in a constitutional amendment ballot initiative requiring voter approval before the tax is actually removed.
Senate President Carmichael has echoed Chairman Shott’s concerns regarding West Virginia’s low workforce participation rate and low educational attainment. Similar to his proposal during the 2018 legislative session President Carmichael plans to advocate for passage of free or reduced tuition to the state’s community and technical colleges. Students participating would be required to remain in the state for two years after receiving a degree or pay the tuition back, as well as be drug tested and participate in community service. This proposal would be funded by a combination of state and federal grants.
Finance Chairman Craig Blair wants turn those relying on government programs into productive, tax-paying members of the West Virginia economy. Blair has emphasized that the Senate Finance Committee will be keeping a close eye on the Supreme Court’s budget. Blair’s other priority will be reforming how the state registers personal vehicles, which at present require an expensive inspection each calendar year. Lastly, he proposed a state tax credit for teachers. Because many teachers buy classroom supplies out of their own pockets, the proposed credit will ease that financial burden on teachers while showing that public education is an absolute priority.
The promised 5 percent pay raise for teachers and public employees, announced in the fall of this year by Governor Justice, will be considered by the Legislature. This raise is in addition to the pay increase of the same percentage they received in 2018. President Carmichael, for one, has expressed concerns about how the state uses its surplus.
A final priority for the Senate is establishing an intermediate appellate court. With all of the recent controversy surrounding the state’s Supreme Court, this is seen by many as a step towards repairing the West Virginia judiciary while providing all litigants a meaningful review of their cases. West Virginia is the largest state without an intermediate appellate court and the Supreme Court has discretionary review to select its cases. An intermediate appellate court may also help in attracting businesses as they would be able to expect meaningful review and development of West Virginia’s evidentiary and procedural law.
Both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature are more balanced in their composition as Democrats picked up seats in the 2018 election. Notwithstanding these compositional changes, leaders in the House and Senate have similar priorities heading into the session. Broadband expansion, regulatory overhaul, teacher compensation, and improving the state’s business tax structure are sure to be at the forefront of policy discussions. Legislative Committee
At a legislative committee meeting on Friday January 4, 2019 it was decided to postpone introduction of our proposed revisions to the code to combat unlicensed practice. We need to gather as much evidence of real financial damage resulting from unlicensed practice as possible, so we can demonstrate clearly to the legislators the gravity of the problem. It is important that lawmakers understand that our interest is an effort to protect the public. So, anyone with knowledge or experience with the problems caused by unlicensed practice please contact John Green or any member of the Board of Directors. Our legislative agenda this year will be one of defensive monitoring and appropriate response. We need everyone’s help with this. It is much too large a task for one or two people to stay aware of everything that goes on at the capitol, and elsewhere, that might affect us. Especially while holding down a regular job or actively responding and lobbying on another issue. Everyone should continuously monitor the legislative website and any other sources known to them and let us know of any potential issues as soon as you become aware of them. Our legislative agenda is a group effort. It is one that affects us all. In order to be successful, it requires that we all participate in all aspects of it. From monitoring, to drafting to lobbying to responding, we all need to do our part to make this work.
Should you have any questions or concerns regarding this report, please do not hesitate to contact me.
William M. Swann, Esq.
Kay Casto & Chaney PLLC