For one of the first times since the end of the 2020 Regular Session, a number of state lawmakers gathered at the Capitol on Monday for a COVID-19 informational meeting of the House Health & Human Resources Committee.
As expected, the meeting took on a distinctly different feel from a typical legislative interim meeting. Members of the Health Committee socially distanced throughout the House of Delegates Chamber, with legislators maintaining several vacant seats between them. Most in attendance wore masks throughout, including all of the House of Delegates staff and speakers presenting to the Committee. Members of the public and the media were not allowed to attend in person, instead participating through the Legislature’s live video stream.
Over the course of two hours, legislators heard presentations from a number of state officials, including the state’s designated COVID czar Dr. Clay Marsh, recently named state health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad, W.Va. National Guard Adjutant General James Hoyer and WV DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch. The bulk of legislators’ questions were directed at Dr. Marsh and Secretary Crouch, who fielded a wide variety of questions regarding the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response. Topics ranged from the efficacy of mask wearing, ongoing testing, possible public education efforts, plans for reopening schools and DHHR/Medicaid program funding and implementation.
In her first appearance before legislators, Dr. Amjad emphasized the importance of wearing masks and her desire to reach out to those West Virginians not wearing masks. She cited her ongoing efforts in Beckley to raise awareness about mask wearing during the pandemic.
Major General Hoyer also gave an update on the National Guard’s efforts to increase the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) in West Virginia. As part of these efforts, a National Guard task force is in the process of developing gowns and high-quality face masks for use throughout the state.
At this time, it is unclear whether additional legislative meetings could follow the House Health informational meeting. The COVID-19 pandemic completely upended the typical legislative interim meeting schedule. While some House of Delegates Committees have formed remote “working groups” to evaluate legislative issues related to the pandemic, there have been no announcements regarding potential future legislative interim meeting dates. House Health Committee Vice-Chairman Jeff Pack (R-Raleigh) indicated the possibility for another informational meeting in the fall.
Meanwhile, the legislative rule-making review process is now underway, with many state agencies having posted proposed rules for public comment. Due to it being a gubernatorial election year, all rules must be out for public comment by the end of July and formally summited for review by the last Friday in August. It is expected that the Rule-Making Review Committee will meet later this year to consider those rules. Until then, many will watch and wait to see what impact COVID-19 will have continue to have on the legislative process.