West Virginia legislative session first since pandemic began

Published: Feb. 1, 2021 at 6:26 PM EST
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - The start of the 2021 West Virginia legislative session February 10 will mark the first time lawmakers have been in regular session since last March.

The 2020 session, albeit amid talk about COVID-19, ended March 7, Four days later, the virus was declared a worldwide pandemic, one that, within days, would have a health and economic effect on West Virginia.

One delegate says lawmakers this year might take up the issue of the virus-related executive orders issued by Governor Jim Justice, including one where the state remains under a state of emergency.

“I think there’s some questions about how long an executive order should be in place,” says Delegate John Kelly, “and how many times an executive order can be extended. I think those questions are out there, and I think we’re going to look for answers for them.”

Another issue, one that’s become tied to COVID-19,, has been the availability of broadband internet. That’s a years-old concern, but one with more importance with the reliance in the past year on virtual learning.

“With the pandemic and kids needing to have WiFi and all, that’s something we’re going to be working on, and I think we have the money to back it up,” says Pleasants County Senator Donna Boley.

A much-discussed matter, one the governor has talked about, is elimination of the state income tax. But lawmakers we spoke to say, if that does happen, it’s likely to be phased out over several years.

“When we look at doing this, we don’t do something that has a negative effect on someone who is on a fixed income,” says Delegate Roger Conley.

“There’s all kinds of ways of making up the revenue,” adds Delegate Shannon Kimes, “and everything I’ve seen and heard so far, I think it will be done in a responsible manner.”

Conley and Kimes are newcomers to the House of Delegates. Their election in November adds to the “supermajority” Republicans now hold in the Legislature.

The House chamber will be closed during the session to visitors on the floor and gallery, to allow for social distancing among delegates.

Boley says no such restrictions have been made in the Senate, adding there should be enough room for Senators to separate.

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