WVSPS Legislative Quarterly Update
Please allow this correspondence to serve as a West Virginia update.
I. Political Landscape
Wholesale changes to the West Virginia Legislature aren’t anticipated in the upcoming elections. The House of Delegates is expected to remain under Republican control given the size of the existing majority. However, some see the potential for the 34-member State Senate to switch. Labor unions and the Plaintiffs’ bar are teaming up with Democratic candidates in an attempt to flip the Senate.
Republicans and the business community are pushing to defend incumbent Senators and are engaging in several tough races for open seats like Eric Nelson against Andrew Robinson in the Seventeenth Senatorial District and Jack Woodrum against Bill Laird in the Tenth Senatorial District. Polling indicates that the Robinson-Nelson race is a dead heat as is the Woodrum-Laird race. In the Eleventh Senatorial District, former State Senator Robert Karnes trails former Delegate Denise Campbell.
State Senator Ryan Weld has a comfortable lead over Delegate Randy Swartzmiller in the First Senatorial District. State Senator Patricia Rucker is running neck and neck against current Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty in the Sixteenth Senatorial District. Finally, former Delegate Rupie Phillips has a solid lead over Delegate Ralph Rodighiero in the Seventh Senatorial District, which is open based on State Senator Paul Hardesty’s decision to not seek an additional term.
II. Legislative Activity (or lack thereof)
The legislature has abandoned its interim committee process in light of COVID concerns. Typically, legislative interim committee meetings occur over a three-day period once a month after the regular session adjourns. Although legislators can’t pass substantive law during these interim meetings, they provide a glimpse into the overall picture of government, particularly with respect to finances. The interim meetings also set the stage for legislative priorities for the following year. In other words, legislators will study topics during interim meetings with an eye towards introducing legislation regarding those topics during the following regular session. The benefit of these meetings is that they provide some insight as to what may be coming in the next regular session.
While much of the 2021 legislative session remains undecided, it’s my understanding that the House of Delegates is already preparing for a socially distanced session. The galleries, which are typically open to the public, will be closed. Delegates will be split between the cramped House floor and the galleries. Those Delegates in the galleries will have voting devices with them to register their votes. While this is all incredibly unique, it’s not unexpected. COVID has impacted virtually every facet of our lives, and government is no different.
III. Fiscal Condition
Oddly enough, West Virginia is in a fairly robust fiscal condition despite COVID. The first few months of the fiscal year have seen revenue exceed budget expectations. Revenue officials attribute the strong financial performance to the infusion of substantial unemployment benefits – which are taxed – and increased spending by the federal government in West Virginia. In addition, increased consumer spending helped bolster sales and use tax collections. The only area lagging behind estimates is the severance tax on coal and natural gas.
West Virginia brought in $331.4 million in tax collections in August, only two months into the new 2021 fiscal year. The $331.4 million was 12.1% higher than the $295.6 million figure estimated by the Department of Revenue for August, and was only 1.4% less than the $336.1 million the state collected in August 2019. Year-to-date tax collections are at $815.4 million, which is 11% ahead of estimates. In sum, West Virginia’s current fiscal condition is far better than analysts predicted.
IV. Important Election Dates
Election 2020 is fast approaching as it is currently 39 days until the November 3, 2020 General Election. With Election Day approaching, it seems appropriate to visit important dates and deadlines.
September 18th is when County Clerks began mailing absentee ballots to those who have applied. Given COVID and some concern over in-person voting, absentee vote-by-mail is expected to have a high volume. Additional important dates are as follows:
October 13 – Voter Registration DeadlineOctober 21-October 31 – Early voting at the County Courthouse, annex, or designated community voting location is permitted during normal business hours and on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. October 28 – This is the deadline for all absentee by mail applications. Absentee applications received after October 28th, even if postmarked, cannot be accepted by law. November 2 – Deadline to hand-deliver an absentee ballot to the County Clerk’s office.November 3 – General Election Day – Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and absentee ballots must be postmarked.
November 9—Canvass—Absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day are accepted if received by the start of the Canvass. Voters obviously have to consider these dates to vote on time. In addition, candidates must be aware of these dates as they develop campaign strategies and communications efforts.
West Virginia policymakers continue to grapple with COVID and its impact on government, education, and health care. When West Virginia initially shut down in late March, our infection numbers were among the best in the nation. In fact, West Virginia was the last state in the nation to have a confirmed case of COVID.
Circumstances have changed over the last two months as the incidence of COVID cases has risen sharply, far surpassing the level of infection earlier in the year. According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the state has 14,706 active COVID cases. 325 West Virginians have died as a result of COVID. The images below are accurate as of September 24, 2020 and have been pulled from the state’s COVID response page. The COVID response page continues to be the best resource for up-to-date information regarding the virus.
The map below shows the state’s County Alert System. The County Alert System presents a rolling seven-day average of cases per 100,000 people in a county. This map is different from the system developed by the West Virginia Department of Education to determine whether a county’s students may hold in-person classes and extracurricular activities. The Education map is updated every Saturday night.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.