Reporters’ roundtable: Wrapping up the 2021 legislative session

Inside West Virginia Politics

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – This week on Inside West Virginia Politics, our host and Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis hosts a reporters’ round table to discuss the 2021 legislative session.

The WV legislature during a pandemic and the historic 0-100 income tax bill vote

In Segment 1, Brad McElhinney of WV Metro News joins us, with a surprise appearance from his dog, to talk about the “weird” differences in covering this year’s legislative session, which was closed to the public during the pandemic. This year, the news media covered the session from above in the galleries for social distancing, a major change from years past when reporters were stationed on the ground floor closer to the legislators.

McElhinney says the overriding headline of the session was the governor’s proposed removal of the state income tax, which caused a stir with the suggested sales tax increase to offset the loss of revenue. If the bill had passed, the state would have had the highest sales tax in the country. The bill was shut down in the House of Delegates with a 0-100 vote within hours of the governor saying the House wouldn’t vote on the bill.

Passing bills on education: What do these mean for students and teachers?

In Segment 2, Brad McElhinney of WV Metro News returns to our reporters’ roundtable to discuss more highlights of the legislative session, including Education Savings Accounts and expanding charter schools. Issues regarding education were among the earliest discussed, with the House of Delegates working to move through its priorities quickly should COVID-19 pause or close the session.

Two years ago, educators across the state went to the Capitol Building to show opposition to expanding charter schools. That pushback didn’t happen this year because the sessions were closed to the public. With the legislation passed, the ESAs will help families save up for tuition and other educational expenses should they choose nontraditional schooling, such as private schools, for their children.

The legislature also passed a bill tightening the existing law against teachers’ strikes, stating that should teachers strike again in the future, they would not be paid for those days. Teachers’ unions called the bill, “vindictive” and “punitive.”

Roundtable: COVID-19 protocol in the WV legislature, what’s next for the state income tax?

In Segment 3, Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis is joined by Lacie Pierson, reporter for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, and Steven Adams, Capitol Correspondent for Ogden Newspapers, to discuss their experiences this year covering the 2021 West Virginia legislative session amid protocols set in place for COVID-19 guidelines.

In the roundtable, Adams describes the difficulties in covering the session with limited opportunities to speak with legislators due to protocol put in place for social distancing. Pierson says while the media was still able to access the same rooms, it was still very limited and she had to rely on her press pass more so than previous years to show she was allowed in since the general public was not.

Our guests also talk about the state income tax plan, which was shot down 0-100 by the House of Delegates. The biggest question now is what happens next, especially with the governor’s plan for a road tour to gain support for the income tax plan.

An extra level of the state courts and a ‘compromised budget’

In Segment 4, Lacie Pierson, reporter for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, and Steven Adams, Capitol Correspondent for Ogden Newspapers, return for a discussion on the Mountain State’s 2021 legislative session.

Pierson discusses the legislature’s approval of an Intermediate Court of Appeals in the Mountain State. She called the decision “a long time coming,” as the state is one of only a handful without a middle court.

Adams talks about the state’s budget, which he called a “compromised budget” as it takes money from higher education institutions, particularly Marshall and West Virginia University. He says the compromise is that this does put money in other areas, and the surplus the state expects at the end of the fiscal year would backfill the funds. It also included a 1.5% cut to state agencies due to the proposed, and failed, state income tax plan. However, while the income tax plan failed, that cut remained in the budget.

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