Legislative Priorities: Relaxed COVID Protocols, A Tax Repeal, Broadband Expansion And A Possible Raise For State Workers
West Virginia lawmakers are hoping for a more normal legislative session in 2022 with some relaxed COVID-19 protocols at the statehouse. There’s also renewed hope to reduce or eliminate the personal income tax.
State lawmakers from the Eastern Panhandle met for a Legislative Outlook event over Zoom on Friday. The Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce hosts these events every year ahead of the state legislative session, which begins in mid-January.
The Eastern Panhandle is home to several of the legislature’s key leadership members, such as Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan. Trump said visitors to the capitol this year will likely get to roam the marble halls as they have in years prior to the pandemic.
“I do not think we're gonna see restrictions on the number of people in the building. There may be, room by room, some limitations on how many people can be jammed into a particular room,” Trump said. “But I'm hoping that we're going to see some relaxation from what we had early this year.”
It’s not yet clear if masks will be required of visitors.
For Trump, his biggest priority this year will be to follow-up on a resolution passed last session that will allow West Virginia voters to decide in the November general election if the legislature can amend the state’s constitution to reduce the personal property tax on machinery, equipment, inventory and vehicles.
Trump said it will be prudent for lawmakers to be transparent with voters about what the change to the tax could mean.
“I know there is some nervousness among school boards, county commissions and municipalities who are the recipients of those levy monies,” Trump said. “And it's incumbent upon us to lay out in a statute this year, the specific plans – how those taxes would be reduced [and] how the legislature will replace the funding.”
On the flip side of the discussion over personal property tax, something that did not make it out of the legislature last year was a repeal to the state’s personal income tax. In a surprising turn of events, the bill to repeal the income tax was dramatically shot down in the House of Delegates on the final night of the 2021 session.
House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said he thinks this issue will be revisited this year.
“Talking with our colleagues in the Senate, talking with the governor's office [about the] personal income tax, I think there's still a strong appetite in both chambers,” Espinosa said of a potential repeal.
Education will also likely be top of mind for lawmakers this session.
Senate Education Chair Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said her goals will be to tweak and strengthen past legislation. She said she hopes to perfect a bill that requires cameras in special education classrooms, and she also wants to introduce legislation that she says would “tighten” physical education requirements in schools.
Additionally, Rucker said a big priority will be to reform the higher education funding model.
“I'm really hopeful we're going to find a funding model that is going to fund higher education in a fair way, that is going to take partisan politics [and] take political influence out of the equation,” Rucker said. “It's going to be based on whether the institutions are fulfilling their missions [and] doing what they set out to do and helping students graduate.”
Charter school expansion in West Virginia, which was one of the bigger topics in education last session, will not likely be a topic this year, according to Rucker.
Lawmakers also mentioned their hopes to tackle other issues such as more broadband expansion, with the goal of getting high speed internet in every West Virginia home.
Rucker said there are also discussions happening about salary increases for public employees, including teachers.
The 2022 West Virginia Legislative session will begin on Jan. 12.