Chris Schulz Published

Senate Kicks Off Legislative Session With A Flurry Of Activity


State lawmakers convened in Charleston Wednesday for the start of the legislative session.

The first regular session of the 86th legislature started in both chambers Wednesday afternoon with the organizational and procedural necessities of governance.

Del. Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, was confirmed as Speaker of the House, while Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, was confirmed as Senate President. Del. Brandon Steele, R – Raleigh, campaigned for the speakership during Republican caucusing last month, but lost to Hanshaw.

Blair and the Senate wasted no time in getting to work, suspending Senate rules to pass more than 20 bills, including a bill restricting how issues relating to racism are taught in schools.

First up was a bill to break up the embattled Department of Health and Human Resources into three distinct departments.

Majority Leader Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, said the restructuring proposed in SB 126 shouldn’t affect taxpayers.

“Initially this will be budget neutral,” Takubo said. “But with the synergies that hopefully the Chief Operating Officer will be able to obtain throughout the different departments, we actually believe it’s gonna save money and return it to the taxpayers or to the sections of care these departments will be managing.”

The Senate also passed bills increasing the reimbursement of hospital rates from the Public Employees Insurance Agency (SB 127), limiting the governor’s authority to spend certain federal funds (SB 129) and clarifying the authority to declare states of emergency.

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that while Senate Bill 128 does not curtail the governor or legislature’s ability to declare a state of emergency, it does implement limitations.

“The law does try to incorporate some things that we’ve learned through the state of emergency in which we were immersed for two and a half years,” Trump said.

For example, a state of emergency declared by executive order will automatically expire after 60 days unless written notice of extension is given to the legislature.

Senate Bill 130, titled the Anti-Racism Act of 2023, aims to stop schools and educators from teaching, among other things, that people are, “inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” by virtue of their race. The Senate passed a similar bill, SB 498, last year but did so after the midnight cutoff on March 11, 2022.

Minority Leader Sen. Michael Woelfel, D-Cabell, questioned the necessity of such a bill.

“Has it happened anywhere that you’re specifically aware of, or even that you’ve been told about, a particular school?” he asked.

Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, said she could not point to a particular incident, but has heard from parents that the issue is a concern of theirs.

“I’m just trying to ground us in reality and not cable TV,” Woelfel said. “Is this a real problem in West Virginia?”

All bills passed with close to unanimous consent. They now head to the House of Delegates for consideration.