CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – On Inside West Virginia Politics, we take a look ahead at the upcoming legislative session and what we can expect to see in politics and COVID-19 protocol. Two major topics legislators are talking about this year are potentially eliminating the state’s income tax and making broadband and internet connectivity more accessible throughout the state.
IWVP: Plans for taxes in the upcoming legislative session
In Segment 1, President of the West Virginia State Senate and Lieutenant Governor Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) stops by ahead of the state’s legislative session.
Blair talks about the possibility of phasing out the state’s income tax as part of the upcoming session. He says if the tax is eliminated, there is no defined timeline and it could still take several years to fully remove the tax. He says eliminating the tax would help bring people to the Mountain State rather than seeing them move to states that already have no income tax.
The senate president also praises Governor Jim Justice’s decision to appoint his predecessor Mitch Carmichael to an economic development position in the governor’s office. He says he believes the decision was the best choice due to Carmichael’s background in broadband.
IWVP: Finding ‘real solutions for real problems’
In Segment 2, continuing to gear up for the legislative session, we hear from Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin (D-Greenbrier County) on what the party is hoping to see come out of the session. He says they are looking for “real solutions for real problems.”
One of those problems, Baldwin says, is healthcare as families and small businesses are “maxed out” amid the pandemic. He also says he hopes to continue fighting another issue West Virginia has been facing long before the COVID-19 pandemic – substance abuse. With crisis calls and overdoses both up, he says it’s important to continue the fight against the opioid crisis.
Baldwin says he hopes to find a way to be transparent and hear from the people on the issues affecting them, especially as there will not be as much access to the Capitol amid COVID-19 precautions.
IWVP: Looking at new protocols and issues to address in the legislative session
In Segment 3, we continue our look ahead at the legislative session with House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay). Hanshaw says one of the big changes coming to the West Virginia Capitol is the protocol to keep everyone safe during the pandemic.
The galleries will be closed to the public as those areas are being reserved for remote seating for members and staff who choose not to wear a mask. Masks will be required to be on the floor of both the House and Senate.
Hanshaw also weighs in on the state income tax, saying the House, Senate and the governor’s staff have been meeting for the past month to see if there is a path forward in eliminating the tax. Both Republicans and Democrats agree broadband in West Virginia needs fixing. Telework, telehealth and virtual learning have brought the issue with the Mountain State’s internet connectivity into the spotlight throughout the pandemic.
IWVP: Hearing the minority party in a supermajority House of Delegates
In Segment 4, Minority Whip Delegate Sean Fluharty (D-Ohio County) talks about making the 23 Democrats’ voices heard in the 100-member House of Delegates among the Republican supermajority.
Fluharty says it will be important for the Democrats to work with the majority party to move forward legislation that benefits working West Virginians, and to speak up if a piece of legislation could have negative impacts on the majority of people in the state.
The minority whip also says he plans to continue his work with Republican Moore Capito in a bipartisan effort to get more high tech industries to West Virginia. The two have already formed a high tech caucus for the issue. Fluharty says the move will help diversify the state’s economy and bring more business to the Mountain State.