For the week ending Jan.12, 2018
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The second regular session of the 83rd Legislature began Wednesday, with members of the House of Delegates returning to Charleston facing a much brighter outlook for the state than in recent years.
Gov. Jim Justice used his State of the State address Wednesday to declare that the state had turned the page financially and was now facing surpluses as opposed to the large budget deficits of the past few years.
“The Governor delivered an optimistic outlook for the state, and we share his optimism,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. “The Obama administration was difficult for West Virginians, but I believe that with the reforms we’ve passed since 2015, combined with a President who is committed to putting our people back to work, West Virginia is beginning a remarkable comeback.”
Speaker Armstead said Republicans are committed this session to passing a series of reforms that will continue to put West Virginians back to work and reduce taxes and regulations on job creators. The Legislature will also work to improve our education system, protect energy jobs, combat substance abuse, ensure fiscal stability and transparency, and protect life and liberties.
“We’ve planned an aggressive agenda that will build on our successes of the past few years, while implementing much-needed reforms for which Republicans have long fought,” Speaker Armstead said.
House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, credited the better budget picture to the spending discipline House leaders have fought to implement over the past few budget years.
“Budget Office officials told us this week that if we had not held our ground in controlling government spending over the past few years, we would not be in the positive position we face today,” Majority Leader Cowles said. “House Republicans fought hard against efforts to grow government and pass unreasonable tax increases, and we’re now reaping the rewards of our efforts.”
House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said the current budget, which some claimed would devastate the state, has actually put it on the path to prosperity.
“We worked tirelessly last year to craft a budget that lived within our means,” Chairman Nelson said. “When we gaveled in last year, we were looking at a $500 million deficit. Now we’re running the first surplus in nearly five years. This is great news because, with our budget under control, we can now devote much more of our efforts on proposals to improve our economy, inspire job creation and attract investment in our state.”
With the state’s financial outlook improving, House leadership has committed to passing a budget before the final day of the 60-day session.
To accomplish that, House leadership will work to ensure any bills that require state funding be passed by the 45th day of the regular session so lawmakers can bring the final draft of the budget up for vote at the beginning of the final week of the session.
There were 550 bills introduced during the first week of the session, the overwhelming majority of those being bills that did not pass last session which delegates requested be carried over into this one.
Some of the new bills introduced this year are high priorities for the House Republican caucus. Those priorities include a welfare reform bill (House Bill 4001), which would combat fraud and add eligibility requirements for public assistance programs, including work requirements and a system to track out-of-state purchases.
Delegates also introduced the Opioid Reduction Act, House Bill 4003. The bill seeks to reduce the number of opioid drugs given to patients by setting prescribing limits for many patients, excluding those who have cancer or are in hospice care or have other long-term treatment requirements.
It would also require quarterly reports on prescribing practices and allow the state’s various licensing boards to investigate any abnormal prescribing practices they may identify.
In order to improve the state’s regulatory environment, delegates have also introduced House Bill 4011, which would require state agencies, when they submit a new rule or rule change, to identify two existing rules that could be repealed. The bill is modeled after President Donald Trump’s federal regulatory reform efforts and designed to get outdated or unnecessary regulations off the books.
Finally, lawmakers this week introduced one of their first potential Constitutional amendments to be proposed this session designed to make government more transparent and accountable.
House Joint Resolution 103 would amend the Constitution to require rules proposed by the state Board of Education and Department of Education be subject to the same legislative rule-making review process to which all other state agencies and higher education institutions must submit.
If passed by the Legislature and ratified by voters, the amendment would also require that six of the nine voting members of the state board be elected by voters statewide.
“Since 2015, we have worked to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach mandated from Charleston in favor of allowing our school districts, superintendents, principals, faculty and parents to make decisions closer to the classroom,” said House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson. “If this constitutional amendment passes, it will make our state Board and Education Department more accountable to the people and increase public input in our education system.”