Emily Allen Published

W.Va. Lawmakers Prepare For February Session (And Ongoing Pandemic)


State lawmakers gathered in Charleston on Wednesday to prepare for the oncoming legislative session. The mostly ceremonial event involved selecting new leaders, publishing the results of the 2020 election and debating pandemic procedure.

House delegates nominated and formally elected returning Speaker of the House, Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, to lead them again.

State senators, meanwhile, formally elected Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, as their new Senate president.

Blair, former chairman for the Senate Finance Committee, was elected to the state Senate in 2012, after serving six years in the House of Delegates.

Both Hanshaw and Blair shared goals for the 2021 legislative session, which they hope will ultimately attract new residents to the state of West Virginia. For Blair, that included personal income tax reform and broadband deployment.

“What I know more than anything is what it feels like to be a West Virginian,” Blair said. “And that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to make the lives of West Virginians better.”

Hanshaw in the House asked delegates to rethink the coronavirus pandemic as an “opportunity” for garnering the state some attention.

“We have lost friends, we have lost neighbors, we have lost businesses, we have lost jobs and we have lost over 1,500 of our friends and family members to the coronavirus pandemic,” Hanshaw said. “But, in the eye of that storm, there is opportunity, because nationally, men and women have begun to recognize what we have known for generations in West Virginia — that ours is a state of opportunity, that ours is a land where people can come and create a business.”

House Democrats — who hold a little more than 20 chairs alongside a Republican supermajority — asked their chamber Wednesday to be more cautious around the pandemic.

House delegates had the option Wednesday to either sit in their regular seats, on the House floor, wearing masks, or they could sit in raised galleries that provided more space for social distancing.

Democratic delegates pointed out, while voting on a resolution for COVID-19 rules, that some on the House floor were improperly wearing their masks.

“Looking around this chamber, we are not socially distanced and are not six feet apart,” said Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia. “I understand why that’s the case. But that makes it even more important for us to wear a mask and wear it properly.”

The Democratic proposal to amend a resolution for House rules, to include stricter guidelines for mask-wearing, failed. Republican Majority Leader Amy Summers said she believed current rules were enough.

“What I’m afraid will happen all session is we’ll be doing ‘points of order’ left and right because someone’s mask happened to slip below their nose,” Summers said. “I think we all know the proper way to wear our masks. And we’re expecting each other to do that. If someone is choosing not to do that, or you’re concerned about that, we as the house have provided you other opportunities to be more socially distanced in the galleries.”

Secretary of State Mac Warner led a brief joint assembly between the two chambers, where lawmakers agreed to accept the results of the 2020 election.

In each chamber, members also accepted resignations from Sen. Paul Hardesty, who MetroNews reports did not run for re-election, and Del. Derrick Evans, who’s facing federal charges for his participation in the failed insurrection of the U.S. Capitol last week.

Lawmakers will return to Charleston for the official 60-day session at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.