Some bills that failed in the West Virginia Legislature last year will get a fresh perspective in the upcoming session with the appointment of lawmakers to several key positions.
Republican Mitch Carmichael, who returns as Senate president in January, has appointed Dr. Tom Takubo of Kanawha County as the Senate’s new majority leader and homeschool and private-school advocate Patricia Rucker of Jefferson County to head the Senate Education Committee.
In the House, new Speaker Roger Hanshaw has tapped Taylor County Delegate Amy Summers as majority leader, Delegate Danny Hamrick of Harrison County as House Education Committee chairman and Delegate Eric Householder of Berkeley County to lead the House Finance Committee.
Carmichael wants to take another look at bills that would provide free community and technical college for in-state residents and establish an intermediate court system.
The college and court bills both passed the Senate last year but died in the House of Delegates as the chamber focused on teacher pay raises.
Passage of the community college bill “immediately impacts the growth and trajectory of our economy,” Carmichael said. “There’s no (other) bill that we can pass that can change the lives of West Virginians to give them a stack of skill sets to take to the marketplace.”
West Virginia is among nine states that have no intermediate appellate courts. The bill would create an intermediate court with six judges that would hear appeals of civil judgments from circuit courts, as well as decisions from family courts and final rulings from state agencies.
West Virginia’s Supreme Court previously estimated it would cost $11.7 million the first year to establish the new court then about $10 million annually.
Carmichael also plans to steer through the Legislature a previously announced move to give state teachers another 5 percent pay raise. They received a similar raise after a nine-day strike last winter.
Based on a stronger economy that has seen higher-than-expected tax collections, Gov. Jim Justice said in October he’ll propose the new raise as well as pumping $100 million into their public insurance plan. A task force has worked throughout the year on finding a long-term insurance funding solution.
Carmichael said his other possible bills include letting local boards make more education decisions and de-emphasizing some made by the state board; and expanding both access to broadband internet and a 2007 pilot “home rule” program that allows some cities to operate outside state code to address specific issues. The home rule program is supposed to end in 2019.
Carmichael said he also wants to take another look at a state tax on business equipment and inventories, which Gov. Justice wants to eliminate. The tax has been viewed as a roadblock to the state economy and job growth. But revenue from the tax would have to be replaced — most of that money goes to counties to support their school systems.