W.Va. legislative leaders preview 2023 session

A new year brings a new legislative session, and in West Virginia the gavel will fall in just over two weeks.
Published: Dec. 26, 2022 at 8:16 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A new year brings a new legislative session, and in West Virginia the gavel will fall in just over two weeks.

When the 60-day, regular session convenes Jan. 11, 2023, Republicans will control more than four-fifths of both chambers with a broad agenda that will affect families across West Virginia.

It starts with with reform at the Department of Health and Human Resources. House and Senate leaders favor a break-up of the mammoth agency, although Gov. Jim Justice vetoed a similar effort last session.

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said its necessary reform to better serve families and protect tax dollars.

“Every issue has it’s moment, and the DHHR’s has arrived, and I believe there is a full commitment from the Legislature to be able to get this right long into the future,” Blair said.

The car tax, income tax and taxes on business are also up for discussion.

Hanshaw called tax reform a shared priority in the statehouse, but one that still needs compromise after failed attempts over the past two years.

“At the end of the day, nothing has passed and the budget surplus grows,” said WSAZ NewsChannel 3 Investigative/Political Reporter Curtis Johnson. " What makes this year be the year?”

“I want to be clear,” Hanshaw replied. “We are not yet in agreement on what a proposal would look like, but I’m just saying it’s a priority.”

On education, the House Speaker said he will once again prioritize hiring teacher aides for first and second grades. It’s a bill Hanshaw wanted last session, that he says now has support among Senate leadership.

“The data shows that the earlier we teach children to read, the more successful they’ll be in middle school, in high school, in college and in the workforce,” he said.

Another item, unemployment reform. Blair wanting to reduce premiums on business by shortening how long claimants can collect unemployment -- a time frame that slides with the unemployment rate and offers a chance to keep unemployment while transitioning to a new job.

“Getting these people then back into the workforce, that will actually drive up wages,” Blair said. “The more demand on the workforce, the higher people’s wages go, and then the higher the wages, the better the life.”

Other priorities in the House include infrastructure -- more money for bridges, roads and sewer projects -- and apprenticeships, increasing the workforce to attract more jobs.

Other items in the Senate include judicial redistricting, which could affecting the number of judges and magistrates in a particular county with hopes of a faster court process.

“We need to have those efficiencies in our courts because that cuts down on expenses,” Blair said.

Democrats, who will control just three of 34 seats in the Senate and 18 of 100 in the House, will focus on making sure everyone’s voice is heard, according to House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell.

They intend to give particular attention to public education and how the state intends to spend its record budget surplus. Woelfel wanting more money to help children in foster care, and Skaff wanting a voice in tax reform.

Together with all those items, lawmakers will set a budget for the next year.