This week, the West Virginia Legislative Session will officially hit the halfway point of their 60-day session. So far, the full Legislature has passed 13 pieces of legislation that have been sent to the Governor’s desk. As of this blog post, the House has passed 54 bills and the Senate has passed 89 bills. Committees are expected to see an increased workload while floor sessions will likely get longer over the remaining 30 days.
The Legislative Session has certainly looked a bit different due to COVID-19 protocols, but that hasn’t stopped either Chamber from tackling big issues. Some of those issues deal with the pandemic itself. Senate Bill – 277 Creating COVID-19 Jobs Protection Act, is a COVID liability bill that will shield businesses from lawsuits pertaining to exposure to the virus. The bill has passed both the Senate and the House of Delegates, and should head to the Governor for signature in the coming days.
Additionally, the Legislature is looking at ways to help businesses as they work through the pandemic. The Legislature is moving House Bill 2025 – Provide liquor, wine, and beer licensees with some new concepts developed during the State of Emergency that utilizes new technology to provide greater freedom to operate in a safe and responsible manner. This bill, which has already passed the House, allows for regulations suspended during the pandemic to become permanent and also cuts fees that will help local restaurants and bars.
COVID-19 isn’t the only focus of the Legislature this session. The Legislature is working on two major education reforms: charter schools and education savings account. House Bill 2012 – Relating to public charter schools, allows for the creation of 10 new charter schools a year as well as virtual charter schools. This bill has passed both Chambers and is now before the Governor.
The House of Delegates has also passed a bill to allow for education savings accounts that is now in possession of the Senate. House Bill 2013 – Relating to the Hope Scholarship Program would allow for families to receive public dollars to fund a student’s education in homeschool or private school. The bill is expected to be reported to the floor of the Senate for ultimate passage by the end of this week.
Legislators at the Capitol aren’t the only ones proposing new ideas this session. Governor Jim Justice just released a proposal to cut the state income tax in West Virginia. The newly proposed bill would cut the income tax for many West Virginians, while raising other taxes and broadening the overall sales tax base to make up for lost revenue. Senate Bill 600 or House Bill 2027 will see quite a bit of interest and debate in the next 30 days.
While Thursday, March 11, 2021 marks the official halfway point of the session, there are a few other dates to keep in mind. The 35th day, March 16, 2021, will be the last day to introduce bills in the House while the 41st day, March 22, 2021, will be the last day to do so in the Senate. March 28, 2021 will be the last day bills must be out of committee to ensure three full days for reading.
Many important new measures will be considered by the Legislature in the coming weeks. The Bowles Rice Government Relations team is heavily involved in the legislative process and stands ready and willing to assist clients with any questions they may have as different pieces of legislation work their way through the Legislature. For more frequent updates, be sure to follow us on Twitter @GovtRelationsWV.