- Special Counsel
The West Virginia Legislature adjourned Sine Die Saturday to wrap up the 2021 Regular Session. In total, the Legislature passed 282 bills, including the budget bill, in the 60-day session. Although Governor Justice allowed for a one-day extension of session for work on the budget, it was not needed.
The Legislature’s $4.495 billion budget was less than the Governor’s proposed $4.569 billion budget filed at the beginning of session, amounting to a $73 million dollar difference in revenue expenditures. The primary difference is a 1.5% cut by the Legislature to state agencies and some higher education institutions. Additionally, the Legislature added $1.85 million in new expenses to the budget that was not contemplated by the Governor.
Currently, Governor Justice has signed 79 bills into law, vetoed 1 bill, and allowed 1 bill to become law without his signature. All updates on actions by the Governor can be found online. We anticipate to see a flurry of bill signings over the next two weeks as the Legislature enrolls legislation completed during the last week of session before heading to the Governor’s desk. For the budget and supplemental appropriation bills, the Governor has five days to sign, veto, or allow to become law without his signature. Now that the Legislature has adjourned Sine Die, the Governor will have 15 days, excluding Sundays, to act on all other bills that completed legislative action.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding safety protocols at the Capitol, legislative session looked quite different this year. However, that didn’t stop legislators from tackling big ideas. The Legislature took aim at legislation dealing directly with the pandemic and the impact it had on West Virginia. Senate Bill 277, Creating COVID-19 Jobs Protection Act passed both the House and the Senate, and has been signed into law by the Governor. The bill is retroactively effective to January of last year in order to coincide with the initial phases of the pandemic. As a result, businesses across the Mountain State now have significant COVID liability protections from potentially abusive lawsuits alleging exposure to the virus.
House Bill 2003, Relating to the authority and obligations of the Governor and Legislature when in declared states of preparedness and emergency was also a bill introduced in response to the pandemic. Sponsors of the legislation sought to provide more legislative oversight of the Governor’s emergency powers during a declared state of emergency. Ultimately, members of the House and the Senate couldn’t come to an agreement on this piece of legislation and it died in a conference committee.
While much focus is on the many of the bills completing the legislative process, there is still one big issue looming for the Governor and the Legislature – the potential elimination of West Virginia’s personal income tax. Governor Justice has made income tax reform his top legislative priority. The plan introduced by the Governor, and ultimately tweaked and adopted by the Senate, would put West Virginia on a path towards eliminating the income tax for West Virginians while replacing much of the anticipated lost revenue with an increase in the sales tax, elimination of existing sales tax exemptions, increased taxes on tobacco products, and a shift in how natural resources in West Virginia are taxed.
The House of Delegates has supported the idea of eliminating the income tax, but in a different way. House Bill 3300, Relating to reducing personal income tax rates generally passed the House and would eliminate the income tax at a slower rate over time through a combination of cuts and growing revenue, without raising any additional taxes.
Ultimately, all sides were unable to reach consensus as to the best manner for phasing out the personal income tax, and the House decided to vote down the tax bill unanimously. Look for this to be a hot topic during the weeks and months to come, as Governor Justice has pledged to take his case to the people as he continues the push to eliminate the State’s personal income tax.
While the regular session may be completed, much of the year’s legislative work is not. The Legislature will begin interim committee meetings to study and discuss ideas and legislation such as a potential repeal of the income tax starting in May. The interim committee schedule is as follows:
- May 10, 2021 (Limited Schedule)
- June 6-8, 2021
- September 12-14, 2021
- October 10-12, 2021
- November 14-16, 2021
- December 5-7, 2021
- January 9-11, 2022
The Legislature will also be back in session later this year to tackle the issue of redistricting, which will require the redrawing of all 100 House of Delegates districts, 34 State Senate districts and 2 Congressional districts (as West Virginia is expected to lose its third congressional seat as part of this year’s census numbers).
The Bowles Rice Government Relations team is heavily involved in the legislative process throughout the year and represented many different clients successfully during the 2021 legislative session. The Bowles Rice team stands ready and willing to assist clients with any questions they may have as different pieces of legislation have made their way through the Legislature. For more frequent updates, be sure to follow us on Twitter @GovtRelationsWV.