Sen. Karnes Resigns From All Committee Assignments In West Virginia Senate
Updated Tuesday, March, 9, 2021 at 8:20 p.m.
Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, has resigned from all committees in the West Virginia Senate but will stay on as a state lawmaker.
Karnes, who was absent from the floor Tuesday, submitted a letter to Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, making the announcement.
“I recently took on a large project with my company and it will require a considerable amount of my time over the next several weeks to get the project properly launched. As a result, my ability to fully participate in committee meetings and deliberations will be significantly impacted,” he wrote.
He later told West Virginia Public Broadcasting he was in the middle of selling one of his businesses.
"I have an offer that I'm actively working toward a closing date — and I expect that sometime in the next several weeks. And so, the timing is somewhat unfortunate. But I think overall, it's a good thing for both my family and my district, because it means that I'll be in West Virginia a lot more," Karnes said.
According to Karnes' LinkedIn profile, he is listed as the president of Orlando, Florida-based FSIS, Inc. and president of the Texas-based Systek Computing, Inc.
As for his work in the West Virginia Legislature, lawmakers' salaries are set in state code at $20,000 per year.
In addition to that salary, legislators are entitled to a per diem of $131 each day "in connection with any regular, extended, extraordinary session, interim assignment." Should Karnes be absent from the session, he would not be entitled to the per diem for any days missed.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the atmosphere of the legislative session, Karnes has often been criticized by Senate Democrats for wearing a mesh mask or no face covering at all.
Photos of Karnes wearing the mesh mask have circulated widely across social media.
In a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, made mention of Karnes wearing a mesh mask that would do little to protect fellow lawmakers from the coronavirus should he become infected.
"I think he should have to remove himself and participate remotely," Romano said to chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan. "I don't think he should be able to put this body at risk."
Lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee quickly recessed Thursday following Romano's comments.
Asked whether his committee resignations had anything to do with his refusal to wear a mask, Karnes told West Virginia Public Broadcasting it was unrelated.
"There's been some contention there. And, no, that is not related to that," Karnes said by phone Tuesday. "The folks that are buying my business don't care about the mask issue one way or another, they just want to close on the business."
Until his resignation from all Senate committee assignments, Karnes had been chair of the Interstate Cooperation Committee and vice-chair of the Education Committee. He was also a member of the Banking and Insurance, Judiciary, Pensions and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.
Blair announced Karnes' resignation from those committees at the end of Tuesday's floor session. He also announced replacements for Karnes and a shuffling of personnel on all affected committees, including Blair taking over Karnes’ seat on the Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, will become vice-chair of the Education Committee, while Sen. Jack David Woodrum, R-Summers, will take over as chair of the Interstate Cooperation Committee.
Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston will take Karnes’ seat on Banking and Insurance, Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, will join the Education Committee and Sen. Patrick Martin, R-Lewis, has been appointed to the vacant seat on the Interstate Cooperation Committee.
Karnes made a return to the Senate after being elected in 2020. He was first elected to the upper chamber in 2014, but lost his seat after being knocked out in the May 2018 Republican primary.
Karnes said Tuesday he expects to return to the Capitol as early as Monday, although it is unknown whether he will return to any committees he was assigned to earlier in the session.