The West Virginia Legislature commences its 60-day regular session on Wednesday, January 8, 2020. This is an election year, which means that of the 134 members of the Legislature (100 Delegates and 34 Senators), 117 of these members will be on the ballot, in addition to the Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and the remaining constitutional officers who make up the Board of Public Works. Taken together, this could lead to a lively session with wedge issues and other politically motivated bills taking up more legislative time than usual.
As usual, prior to the official start of the regular session, lawmakers will convene for two days of interim committee meetings beginning today. Some of the more notable topics on the interim meeting agenda include consideration by the Joint Committee on Finance of a draft resolution of a constitutional amendment that would phase out the removal of the personal property tax on manufacturing equipment, machinery, and inventory. This Committee also will receive an update on the FY2020 budget picture from the Department of Revenue now that the first six months of the fiscal year are in the books.
To understand the dynamics of the session, a brief overview of the composition of that body, and its leadership, is appropriate.
The West Virginia Legislature is comprised of a 100-member House of Delegates and a 34-member Senate. Both chambers are controlled by the Republicans who hold a 59-41 advantage in the House and a 20-14 split in the Senate. The Speaker of the House is Roger Hanshaw, an attorney specializing in public utilities law who also holds a Ph.D. in chemistry. Speaker Hanshaw was elected to the House in 2014 and as Speaker in December 2018. The leadership team in the House includes the Majority Leader, Delegate Amy Summers; Delegate Eric Householder as Finance Chair; Delegate John Shott as Judiciary Chairman; and Delegate Jordan Hill has taken over the Health Committee from Delegate Joe Ellington, an OB/GYN physician. Delegate Gary Howell returns as Chairman of the Committee on Government Organization as well as Delegate Daryl Cowles and Delegate Paul Espinosa to their leadership posts as Speaker Pro Tempore and Majority Whip, respectively. Delegate Tim Miley serves as the Minority Leader for the House of Delegates in what is presumed to be his last session after announcing he would not seek re-election in 2020.
Senator Mitch Carmichael, is the Senate President and, by law, also holds the title of Lieutenant Governor. President Carmichael was elected to the Senate in 2012, after having served in the House for 10 years, and he has been President since 2017. Senator Tom Takubo returns as the Majority Leader, as does Senator Craig Blair as Chairman of the Finance Committee, and Senator Charles Trump as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Senator Ryan Weld continues to serve as the Majority Whip, while Senator Mark Maynard takes over as Chairman of the Committee on Government Organization after the resignation of former Senator Greg Boso. The Senate Minority Leader is long-time Senator Roman Prezioso, who also announced late in 2019 that he would not seek re-election to another four-year term.
In West Virginia, there is no pre-filing of legislation. There is, however, a mechanism that operates similarly. That is, as a general rule, any bill pending in the House at the adjournment of the first regular session of the Legislature that has not been rejected, tabled, or postponed indefinitely, shall carry over and be introduced to the second regular session. This occurs every even numbered year and such bills shall retain their original number and be introduced on the first day of the session.
In 2020, therefore, we can expect the House to commence the new session with approximately 570 "carry over" bills. We will briefly introduce some of those bills that we expect will be considered in the 2020 session. Of particular interest, again, to the business community and manufacturing industry is the repeal of the personal property tax on inventory, machinery, and equipment. A repeal of this particular tax, which brings in approximately $200 million a year, would require the approval by two-thirds majority of each chamber of a joint resolution to amend the West Virginia Constitution before the question is presented to the voters
for ultimate approval.
Other bills of interest include HB 2007, which would eliminate the requirement for healthcare facilities and practitioners to obtain a Certificate of Need from the State before building, expanding or adding healthcare services.
Public health advocates got a significant boost when the federal government recently raised the purchase age for tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to 21, thus avoiding what would have been a significant hurdle in the West Virginia Legislature. Even still, one may expect those advocates to support HB 2077, a bill to make it a secondary offense to smoke in a vehicle with a minor present.
Public health advocates may once again have to contend with HB 2847, a bill to permit personal or conscientious objections to compulsory immunizations.
HB 2725 relates to preventing compensatory damage awards for medical expenses from including certain sums. This bill can be characterized as "tort reform" legislation, which has been a priority for the Republican-controlled Legislature in recent years. The bill would overrule West Virginia case law that allows a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit to recover medical expenses, lost wages or other losses even if the plaintiff never had to pay those losses because they were paid by someone else.
HB 2733 adds "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the categories covered by the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act prohibits, among other things, employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of "race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, blindness, disability or familial status." HB 2733 would amend the Human Rights Act to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the list of protected classes. Similar bills have been introduced in the past without any meaningful success, but Senate President Carmichael's recent statement that he is studying amendments to the Human Rights Act suggests this bill may gain more traction during the upcoming session. Senator Carmichael previously has participated in or hosted a panel discussion on this concept to gauge potential support for the measure in the Senate.
As we continue throughout this session, we will bring you updates and insights. If you have any questions, please contact our Government Relations Practice Group