Chris Schulz Published

Senators Look Both Ways On Legislative Activity

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, wearing glasses, a black suit over a white shirt with a tan and light-blue striped tie, looks out over the Senate Chamber on March 11, 2023, the final night of the 2023 legislative session, as staff members are recognized for their work. To his left can be seen a portion of the Senate seal on a red background, and to his right the names of Senators are displayed on a blue screen.
Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, asked about more high-end bourbon sales.
Will Price/WV Legislative Photography

With the sixty-day legislative session over, legislators and West Virginians have a chance to reflect on what was accomplished and look forward to what still needs to be done for the state. 

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, took a break from his duties just before midnight Saturday night to say the accomplishments of the 2023 Legislature rank among the best he’s ever seen.

“I’ve been doing this since 2003. And I believe that this was the best session that we’ve had in this state,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, and maybe since I’ve been alive, never before have we been able to give a tax reduction, been able to grow our state, our economy, and do the things that the people of West Virginia want and need. We did work on education. There’s a whole host of things that we got across the finish line. I’ll still be trying to figure out everything that we got passed tomorrow.”

The legislature passed a tax cut plan that includes a 21.25 percent reduction in personal income taxes, with a mechanism to further reduce personal income taxes in the coming years. Retroactive to Jan. 1, 2023, the tax reduction package, including a rebate on personal property and small business inventory taxes, represents a $754 million cut in taxes.

Even with so much activity, and especially in the final week, Blair acknowledges that there is always more to be done.

”There’s always things that are left undone, and I can’t tell you what those are right now,” Blair said. “(There’s) still more things to do for education, there’s more things to do to make it so that businesses want to locate here, but to a greater degree. We keep getting better and better by what we’re doing. More than anything. It’s the efficiencies of the Senate.” 

Blair said that since Republicans have taken control of the Senate, there has been a daily meeting held each morning at 7:30 a.m. for party members to caucus and discuss pending issues. He also pointed to ending what he called “Senate time,” instead opting to start meetings and floor sessions on time.

“You have to admit, people thought that it’s going to be a hard time with 31 Republicans, that they’d be fighting with each other,” Blair said. “With the exception of yesterday’s outburst by one of my members, they operate as a team, as a unit, what’s good for the people of West Virginia. And I’m proud of them all.”

Blair is referring to an incident Friday morning where Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, was removed from the Senate floor after repeated outbursts claiming violations of Constitutional rules.

A Democrat’s Perspective

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said the Republican supermajority is concerning. 

“When bills are running that I believe will harm workers, I’m going to speak up. When I believe bills are being run that would harm people who maybe don’t look like us or love like us, I’m going to speak up, somebody’s gotta be that voice down here,” he said. “It can’t be one sided. These huge majorities, in my opinion, is just not good for government. There needs to be more of a balance, but that’s up to the voters, I don’t have any control over that.” 

Caputo is one of three Democrats in the Senate this year and on the House of Delegates side, there are only 12 Democrats. 

“As long as the people have sent me down here, I have not changed my ways, and I’ve been here 27 years,” Caputo said. “I just gotta assume that the people that sent me here want me to continue advocating for what I’ve done since day one, and I’m going to continue to do that as long as either I decide to run or until the people back home decide it’s time for a new voice.”

He acknowledged that being part of the “superminority” has limited his ability to impact legislation, but he still did what he could to help his constituents.  

“You try to do the best you can with what you have and try to put forth amendments that you think the committee would support,” Caputo said. “I got to say, Chairman Charlie Trump has been more than gracious to me. We’ve had a long-time relationship, friendship. I can just be the voice for the people to send me down here and do the best I can.” 

Protecting Children

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, highlighted the constitutionally required judicial redistricting as one of the most important achievements of the session. He also highlighted an issue that will require the continued attention of the legislature, but one he hopes will improve thanks to laws passed in the 60 days.

“There are always things that need to be done. One of the things that we’ve been working hard on, I’ve been working hard on, is trying to address the Child Protective Services crisis in our Eastern Panhandle,” Trump said. “We just don’t have caseworkers, and calls and referrals to the hotline about abused and neglected children are not being investigated. We’ve got to solve that.”

Trump was the lead sponsor of a bill that reallocates the state’s child protective workers based on county population and caseload and spoke in favor of a bill updating the authority of the Foster Care Ombudsman.

“We got a number of bills, plus some extra appropriations across the finish line this year, that I’m really hoping and praying are going to help solve that problem,” he said. “I’m hoping that some of the measures we passed will help to do that, so that we can get people that can go out and knock on a door and lay eyes on a child to see if you know the child is indeed being subjected to abuse or neglect.”

Key Education Bill Comes Down To The Final Bell

Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, also had her focus set this session on helping children. The Third Grade Success Act, a key piece of legislation that will put money and resources behind improving early childhood literacy in schools, came down to the wire Saturday night. 

“We’re waiting for the message, I just saw a runner go by. I hope that that was the message they were carrying so we can look at it and hopefully concur. That’s the plan,” Grady said around 10 p.m. Saturday. “I guess we want to go out on this session with a bang, with the most important piece of legislation that I feel this session.”

The Third Grade Success Act passed just before the Senate adjourned for the year. Grady, who is also a teacher, said she was excited to get back to her classroom this week, but she also acknowledged more needs to be done for her fellow teachers.

“The pay raise, it does help a little bit. But I wish we would have gotten some more things across the finish line that dealt with their personal leave days,” Grady said. “That would keep teachers in the classroom. We’re mentally burnt out, we’re emotionally burnt out, we’re really exhausted physically from everything that we’re doing. So it’s easy to take a day for yourself if those days don’t really matter in the end anyway. That was a goal that I wanted to accomplish, and so we’re gonna try again next year.”

The work of the legislature never truly ends, and interim sessions are likely to be announced for the coming months soon.