January 14th marked the first day of the 82nd Legislative Session. For the first time in 80 years, Republicans took majority in the House, but on that first day, the Democrats, now in the minority, came out swinging.
In his acceptance speech, newly elected House Speaker Tim Armstead spoke of the challenges facing the state and reached out to the now minority Democrats to work together to find solutions.
After all the pomp and circumstance of the swearing in ceremonies, it was on to routine business. Each session, the house needs to agree on its own rules, so up for a vote was House Resolution number one. It’s a simple procedure that turned into partisan bickering.
For years, house Republicans have wanted each proposed piece of legislation to contain an economic impact statement, to ascertain whether a law would be good or bad for the state’s economy. But the Democratic majority would have none of it and never adopted the GOP’s proposal. Now, the Republicans can write the rules and leadership decided to insert language requiring each bill to carry an economic impact statement. That set the Democrats off.
Delegate Larry Williams from Preston County started it off when he proposed an amendment to require the economic impact statement to include how the law would affect the state’s senior citizen population.
“It’s really a simple amendment," said Williams, "It just adds senior citizens as a special category into the impact study.”
Delegate Daryl Cowles, the Majority Leader disagreed saying it would only make things more complicated.
“To add segments of the population, senior issues, or whatever, would not so much help. There’s an important thing to remember, is that jobs impact, or economic impact of the new section, 95 C in the House Rule 1 affects all segments of the population. Seniors, the economy, jobs, and struggles of our economy over the last year that seniors face, are faced by all segments of the economy,” said Cowles.
The amendment was rejected on party lines. Then other Democrats proposed amendments to the rule. They called for special impact statements for children, families, and veterans. All were rejected.
Delegate Randy Smith of Preston County caught on to the Democrats tactics.
“I hope we don’t go down this track this year, starting this year off to go down that every time we want to pass something, we try to drag the senior citizens, veterans, and the children in it to get a roll call vote, so we can get a postcard that says Delegate Smith hates senior citizens, or Delegate so-and-so hates puppy dogs, or so…it just goes on and on,” said Smith.
The debate went on for close to two hours. One Republican Delegate called the minority’s tactics “political theater.”
Minority Leader Tim Miley stood to explain why his caucus was making so much noise about the rules of the house.
“I make no apologies for myself or any of my colleagues for questioning any rule that we are about to put in place for the body of the house, and for trying to amend any rule based upon issues they deem important to them," Miley said, "The new members won’t know this, but last year on this very first day, we too tried and successfully amended the rule that was simply and purely administrative on how the calendars were handled, and there was loud objection to that by many in this body, so I reject any insinuation that somehow this is political theater, or in any way doing anything other than representing the people who sent us here and exercising our beliefs based upon our own life experiences.”
And that wrapped up a tense first day in the House of Delegates.