Eric Douglas Published

Special Legislative Session Ends With Closing Remarks From Hanshaw, Blair

view of the state capitol building from the river
The West Virginia Capitol building.
Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

Tuesday night, both the West Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates closed the first extraordinary session of 2023 after passing 35 of the 44 introduced bills.

Review coverage of the special session here

After long debates Tuesday, that often got “into the weeds,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, addressed the House by challenging the members to build a better West Virginia. He asked them to think about what they can do to improve the state without the large budget surpluses the state has enjoyed the last few years.

Listen to Hanshaw’s remarks.

Minutes after the House closed out the session Sine Die, Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, stepped down from the podium to challenge the Senate to represent the people. He noted that the Senate will begin meeting to address issues with Fire and EMS providers in the state in the same way the legislature has been working on issues with the corrections department. 

Listen to Blair’s remarks.

Transcripts of both speeches are below. 

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw Transcript

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, speaks from the floor.

Credit: Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

“Well, folks, we’re at the end. We’re at the end of a 45-bill agenda for a very long, special session. And in a few moments, we’ll adjourn sine die and go home. And, as we do, I want to just take this opportunity to give everyone a few moments of challenge on some things to reflect on over the course of the next few months. 

So we will, beginning almost immediately, be renovating this House chamber, and this room will be unavailable to us. We will not meet again in this room as a body until we’re convened again for the 2024 regular session of the legislature. Absent something extraordinary, the next time we’ll be together is when we will be convened on the second Wednesday of January 2024, to take up the people’s business in a brand-new year. But there’s a lot of time between now and then, and there’s a lot of decisions to be made. There’s a lot of preparation to be done leading up to that day. 

Since we’re not going to be together, I know it’s late, but I want to take just a moment to reflect on what the last couple days has been for us, how we got here, and where we’re going, where we as a body are headed and where we’re going to take our state. 

You know, we have enjoyed historic budget surpluses over the course of the past couple of years here as a state. And there’s a lot of things that have led to that. There have been prudent decisions made by this body, prudent decisions made by our colleagues in the Senate, prudent decisions made by the executive. We have maintained a baseline flat budget, as we call it now, for years, and that’s unprecedented. When I go around the country and meet with other presiding officers of legislative chambers elsewhere, when many of us attend legislative meetings around the country and talk to our colleagues, that’s unheard of. That doesn’t happen. And we have the right to be proud of ourselves for having done that. We have a right to be proud of having held the line on spending for that time, because it’s what has given us the capacity to make the kind of decisions that we’ve made. 

Over the course of the past couple of years, we’ve made some historic investments in economic development here that have given rise to a lot of new opportunities that will soon begin to bear fruit. We’ve made some historic investments in public and private education. Here in West Virginia, we’ve made some historic investments in the public schools. Those are all things I’m very proud of. I hope they’re things that you’re very proud of. But they’re also things that we shouldn’t take for granted. We will not be in a position to have 10 digit multibillion dollar budget surpluses forever. 

I’m glad that we have been for the past couple of years, I hope that we are again next year. But as the Chairman said, we’ve just gone through a couple of months now in which we haven’t had quite the kind of surpluses that we’ve seen over the course of the past two years, almost every month, for the course of the past two years. We’ve enjoyed seeing those monthly numbers rolled in and see those budget surpluses come in at double digit percentages above revenue estimate. 

That won’t last. We won’t be able to sustain that in perpetuity, which means we have an obligation as a body to think, between now and January 2024, about how we want to use the opportunity that remains for us to make investments in the state and to steer the state in the direction that we actually wish to take it. 

That means thinking deeply about some things. It means taking time between now and January to do more than just react to the bills that are put before us when we convene here on that day. It means thinking about how we actually want to be strategic about the direction that we take West Virginia. Where are we going to go on the second Wednesday of January, what needs to be done between now and then to get us there? 

If we think back over the history of our state, even the very recent history of our state, we faced some really big challenges. And we solved them. We solved them by thinking about how we structure the government. We had a number of unfunded liabilities here in West Virginia that dragged down our bond ratings to some of the lowest in the nation at one point. We overcame that. We overcame that by implementing prudent fiscal policies that let us pay down those unfunded liabilities. 

We’re in the same shape now with one of the best funded rainy day funds in America. I’m proud that we have one of the very best funded rainy day funds in America. How do we sustain that? And how do we structure it going forward? Do we smooth out our contributions to that and make more investments in higher education? Do we make more investments in corrections? Do we make more investments in the public school system? Do we make more investments in economic development? 

I don’t know. But we need to think about that before we convene here on the second Wednesday of January. 

In my very first job out of college, I worked for Commissioner Gus Douglass at the Department of Agriculture, and that’s how I became acquainted, in fact, with the government. It’s how I became acquainted with the legislature. I was sent here by Commissioner Douglass to be the Department of Agriculture’s person who represented that agency in the rulemaking process. Some of you know my love of that committee. That’s where it began. 

So I would go to that committee on behalf of the Department of Agriculture. And Commissioner Douglass has always said to his staff, that the 60-day legislative session is incredibly short, if you’re trying to make something happen, but it’s an eternity if you’re trying to keep something from happening. 

We shouldn’t come here with that mentality in January when we come back with the idea that we’re going to stop things from happening. We need to spend the time we have between now and January, asking the question, What do we want to make happen? What do we want to make happen? 

We can’t wait till January to draft our bills. We can’t wait till January to send our ideas downstairs to bill drafting. We can’t wait till January to work with our committee attorneys and our committee chairs and the staff to get those ideas in a posture that we can be prepared to act on them. On that second Wednesday of January, we have to be ready to do that. And since we’re not going to be together as a body, while we will still have our meetings, we’ll meet again in September, we’ll meet in October, we’ll be in Wheeling together in November, for a wonderful time there. 

We will be together in December, but we won’t be in this room. No delegates will be in this room. There’ll be no legislative business in this room until we convene again on the second Wednesday of January. And I don’t want us to leave here tonight down in the weeds. We’ve been down in the weeds for two days. We’ve been down in the weeds looking at funding numbers, looking at amounts and talking about percentages and talking about amounts to be diverted to the rainy day fund, amounts to be devoted to, or directed to, a litany of things; things that are important, things that are important to many of us. I know that many delegates in the room here asked for things to be placed on this special session call today. And we’ve been able to enact many of those things. That’s good. We’ve been able to do things that are important to our communities. 

But what are we going to do for the whole state? And that’s our responsibility. It’s our job. And our opportunity to do that won’t come around again until we’re together on that second Wednesday of January. 

We’ve seen over $7 billion of investment in West Virginia in the course of the past three years. $7 billion. $7 billion. We’ve achieved a top 10 business ranking for the first time — certainly in my lifetime. We’ve repealed 1,500 outdated or antiquated rules or regulations that many of our constituents in the small businesses in our communities have told us were problematic. 

And we’ve done all that while still creating and preserving the kind of quality of life that we’re all proud of. And that has led other people around the country and around the world to look at West Virginia and be interested in us as a state. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of us for having been able to do that. And I want us to come here the next time we’re together in this room on the second Wednesday of January, prepared to do it again. 

But we’ll only do that if we’ve actually thought about it. We’ll only do that if we’ve actually contemplated where we actually want to take the state. It won’t happen by just showing up and reacting to the bills that we’ve reintroduced. 

We all fill out that form every year, in which we reintroduce the bills that we’ve sponsored the last one to 10-15 years. And many of them are important. And we’ll act a lot of those this coming year. Because it takes time to get some of that legislation right. We’ll do that. But what will we do that will transform it, while we do what will transform the state and actually help us take a step forward. Help us leapfrog the states that we’re competing against as some of the speakers on bills today that you heard. What will we do? What will transform your communities? We have to talk to them. We have to find out from them what will transform those communities.

We have an obligation to come here on that second Wednesday of January prepared to do it. Do we continue to use our surpluses in the way that we have? Or do we do something different with them? I don’t know. I don’t know. But I think we have to collectively decide that because that opportunity won’t continue. We won’t continue to have access to that kind of surplus forever. 

We enacted the largest tax cut in the history of West Virginia just a few months ago when we were here in regular session. That alone is an accomplishment. But it comes at the cost of the budget surpluses that we’ve seen in the course of the past two years. We now won’t be able to do those things. We will have to prioritize our interests in government. I won’t use that acronym, but we do have to prioritize what we think will transform our government, what we think will transform the state of West Virginia. We’ve got an opportunity in 2024 to do that with our colleagues in the Senate, with the executive branch and together here in this room. 

And as we leave here tonight as we adjourn, I did not want us to leave here down in the weeds. I wanted us to leave here thinking about where we’ll be on that second Wednesday of January in 2024. I look forward to seeing you then. 

Mr. Speaker I move this session adjourn, Sine Die.” 

Senate President Craig Blair Transcript

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, speaks from the floor.

Credit: Will Price/WV Legislative Photography

“We started out with 44, 45 bills. I think we’ve passed 36 bills. You are to be applauded for the work that you’ve done for the people of West Virginia. 

There’s more to applaud. This doesn’t come easy. This has been three days that didn’t cost the taxpayer an extra cent for us to be here. We did this during the interim time period. But there were bills that were important, things that were important for the people of West Virginia that were being done. So let’s not forget to thank some of the people that can really make this happen. That’s our staff. Stand up. Round of applause for everybody here. Far too often they go unrecognized. And just like a good referee, they are transparent. To be a good official is to be transparent, not be seen. And that’s our staff. And they do a phenomenal job. 

I’m going off script a little bit for just a second to the back of the chamber. We have the Speaker of the House of Delegates Roger Hanshaw. Stand up. Give him a round of applause.

Now I want you to do something else, too. I just witnessed one of the most moving moments in my time in the last 20 years. I listened to the Speaker address his members of the House of Delegates. And it was one of the finest messages that I’ve ever heard. It’s been taken and put up and you will have it on your phones. 

I am not near as articulate as what that man is. But everything he said was spot on. And it applies to us in this chamber as well. And I’m not going to be redundant on that aspect of it. But Mr. Speaker, my hat’s off to you if I had one on. It was excellent. 

You’re talking about us working together to build the best West Virginia that we can possibly have for the people in this state. They deserve nothing less. We’re redefining government, ladies and gentlemen. The Speaker did talk about when we travel throughout this country and throughout this world. Others come up and ask questions about how’re you doing this? How are you doing that in the state of West Virginia? I can remember when those questions were never asked. 

It’s because of your hard work, the hard work of the House of Delegates and the hard work of the executive. And we shouldn’t forget our agencies. Because our agencies are doing something also. Our Board of Public Works are looking at how we can do it better. How can we go from one of the worst states in the nation to how we can be one of the best? And it’s showing. The speaker talked about the top 10 of the business climate, our pension systems – one of the best in the nation. A 21.25 percent tax reduction and that doesn’t include the rebate, not rebate, refundable tax credit for the automobiles, personal property tax. And we’re set to trigger another 10 percent reduction in personal or the personal income tax.

I’ve got all my notes because I was jotting some things down. There was a big debate over there in the House of Delegates here just a few minutes ago and some things were said. But the most important thing that we need to remember on this is that we’re building a better state of West Virginia. My ultimate goal is — and I’m from a growth area. I want to make sure that we got growth areas in every one of your districts, every house member’s district in the state of West Virginia is called success. That’s why we’re all here to make their lives better.

We’ve done something that they said it couldn’t be done. That is our state operated to speed of business, not to speed of government. And I can prove this. We were entertaining, somebody was looking into investing billions that’s going to be in the state of West Virginia the other night, and there was a group that was coming out, that just got done investing in the state of West Virginia. And they’re already here, but they’re doing more. 

They said to me, ‘Craig, we’ve never seen anything like it. Every other state that we go to, what we did in three months in the state of West Virginia, would have taken years in any other state that they currently operate in.’ 

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s why we’re here. That’s why we become attractive by being hungry, hungry for success for our people, hungry for opportunity for our people. 

We’re not a democracy, by the way. We’re a representative form of democracy. And sometimes people forget that. You embody that. You are that representative form of democracy. You hear what your people say, in your districts, you listen. We can’t ever forget that. That word democracy is thrown around way too much. This is the representative form of democracy. And if we remember that, the sky’s the limit for the people West Virginia, and it’s happening. 

There are other times though, because there are still problems in West Virginia. And we’re not turning our backs on it. As the Speaker stands back there, he’s been with us. 

At the end of the session, we knew that we still had issues with corrections. Within, I think it was three weeks, we started having meetings every other week. And then as we got closer to this session, we had them more frequently and we listened. We listened to all involved. And we got, we were trying to find a path forward, a good way. 

Ladies and gentlemen, today, you were at the beginning of the success of straightening out corrections instead of just throwing money at it. Working together to have a better outcome across the board. 

The Fire/EMS issue. We’ve done the band aid that we did for corrections back in 2018 or 2019. That’s not good enough. 

Mr. Speaker, I’m gonna speak for you now because we’ve already done this before. We intend in a matter of the next couple of weeks to start down the same path with Fire/EMS in the state of West Virginia. This is what we did with corrections while not forgetting to keep our eye on the ball on corrections. Now the funny part about it is we have many balls in there. And it takes each and every one of your expertise to come together to help make this successful. And you do not get 100 percent of everything you want. If that was the case, I would have gotten my eyeglass bill this past year, which by the way I looked at my prescription the other day in the code says that it’s at least a year and my prescription says good for one year. Thought or that little plug in there for my bill, for next year maybe.

I’m not gonna go any farther but you should be proud of yourselves.The House of Delegates should be proud of themselves. We should be proud of the work that we’ve done for the people of West Virginia. You in the minority. You’re not excluded, and you know that. We want your input. We want your feedback. We were all in this together. We are Senators in this room. I don’t care where the good ideas come from. If it’s a good idea, we deploy it. And each and every one of you know that I live by that. In my role of having the privilege, the privilege of being the guy that represents your will and helps bring your will to the fruition for the people of West Virginia.

I don’t know how to close better than to say this one thing. As I’ve talked about traveling around the country, I’ve noticed something. It’s time for the people of West Virginia to realize this. They’ve been beat down for a long time. The people outside the state think better than what we think of ourselves. It’s time to dream big. Believe that we can be better, that we can be successful, that we can keep our youth here with gainful employment, and have the best education in the world. 

Notice I dream big. We dream big. We know that we can do it. And failure is not an option. But it’s not a pretty process. Now we’ll close, because I’m not one of the best speakers in the world but Benjamin Franklin, my hero, is hanging up in the office there. And it’s on the bottom my stationary in one of his quotes was, ‘Well done is better than well said.’

Ladies and gentlemen in this room. You do it well, it’s well done. Thank you.”