CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates crossed the midpoint of the 2020 legislative session this past week, with a focus on how to inspire innovation and job creation across the state.
Thursday, Feb. 6, marked the 30th day of the 60-day session. So far this session, delegates have passed 89 House bills and sent them on to the state Senate. The House has also passed four bills that were sent over from the Senate. So far this session, the Legislature has completed action on 11 bills and sent them to Gov. Jim Justice – seven House bills, and four Senate bills.
Both legislative bodies typically spend the first 50 days of session focused on passing bills that were introduced in their respective houses. After day 50, which is known as “Crossover Day” due to the legislative deadline for bills to be passed out of their house of origin, each chamber focuses mainly on the bills passed by the other side.
While floor session calendars and committee agendas are now becoming significantly busier, a major focus of discussion during the past week was not on an active piece of legislation, but a presentation given during the House’s Tech Caucus – a bipartisan group formed this session to focus specifically on raising awareness and highlighting issues surrounding the startup economy, entrepreneurship and job creation.
On Wednesday, the Tech Caucus participated in a lengthy presentation and question-and-answer session with West Virginia native and former Cisco CEO John Chambers.
Chambers has been working with West Virginia University to help inspire innovation and entrepreneurship, and shared his insights and recommendations with lawmakers. He spoke of the importance of having a long-term vision for the state and working together to achieve those goals.
“You have to have the courage to dream what’s possible and imagine the American dream, the West Virginia dream, coming true,” Chambers told the caucus. “It requires moving with speed…I think we all know that if we don’t change, the outcome is unacceptable in terms of direction.”
Among his recommendations, Chambers encouraged lawmakers to ensure the state’s universities and community colleges are coordinating with employers to adequately prepare students for the high-demand jobs that are emerging in the economy.
“I think what we need to do is what you are now doing: A vision of what’s possible and how we can all come together, put aside any of our differences for one goal of what is right for the state and every citizen within that and then have the courage to take those risks and really make it happen,” Chambers said.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said the comment from Chambers that stuck with him most was, “We either have to be disruptive or be disrupted.” He said it’s a comment that will frame the last 30 days of the session.
“The question is: How do we be disruptive? Because we all can agree we need to shake up the status quo in this state to truly inspire the change necessary to unleash the growth and economic diversity West Virginia will need to thrive over the next century,” Speaker Hanshaw said.
Speaker Hanshaw said the House and its committees are working on several proposals that could stand to have that kind of positive disruptive effect on the state.
That includes House Bill 4001, which would create the West Virginia Impact Fund to attract capital investment dollars to help fund large-scale job creation projects in the state. Delegates are currently working to refine some amendments to that bill in order to perfect it before passage.
The House Technology and Infrastructure Committee this week also passed out its version of House Bill 4015, which would update broadband enhancement and expansion policies in the state. The bill would streamline permitting processes and allow the state to contract with private carriers to use state-owned properties and buildings to locate and deploy broadband wireless infrastructure.
“House Bill 4015 places a shot clock on regulatory approvals, making it faster to cut through red tape,” said lead sponsor Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell. “It also begins to open up state-owned towers for broadband and cellular coverage expansion, connecting more West Virginians in places across the Mountain State.”
House Bill 4015 is the latest in a series of bills passed since 2017 to inspire broadband expansion in the state.
Those bills are reaping results. Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $25 million investment in the Harrison Rural Electrification Association’s broadband co-op, which was created following passage of 2017’s House Bill 3093.
Additionally, on Feb. 3, the Federal Communications Commission certified that the state Public Service Commission could regulate broadband infrastructure on utility poles, bringing more local control to the broadband expansion process. This was made possible by Senate Bill 3, which passed the Legislature last year.
Meanwhile, to help combat the state’s low workforce participation rate, Speaker Hanshaw said the House Judiciary Committee has been working on several criminal justice, sentencing, bail and parole reform bills that are intended to make it easier for rehabilitated individuals to re-enter the workforce.
“We know that when someone is incarcerated, they’re not being a productive member of our society or accruing the skills that make them marketable for employment in their communities,” Speaker Hanshaw said. “The goal of all of these bills is to reduce the barriers in the system that prevent these people from getting back into the workforce and contributing once again to society.”