One year and 22 days after Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency in West Virginia, the House of Delegates adopted a resolution that would put an end to some executive orders Justice has issued since March 2020.
House Concurrent Resolution 104 would make most of Justice’s executive orders expire on May 17, but the governor’s state of emergency proclamation itself would remain intact, Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, said Thursday.
Introduced with four days left in the 2021 regular legislative session, the resolution would exempt 20 executive orders specifically defined in its language.
Delegates adopted HCR 104 by a margin of 76-24.
The resolution will head to the Senate for consideration but, as Graves noted during debate Wednesday, there has been less will from the Senate to affect the state of emergency or the governor’s authority therein for the past year.
“I would say this adequately expresses the majority opinion of the House, and we should pass it, if we agree with it,” Graves said under questioning by Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, about the effect of the resolution. “What the Senate does is probably no longer our concern.”
The resolution sets May 17 as the deadline, because “the vast majority of West Virginians will have immunity from COVID-19 through either having recovered from the disease or being fully or partially vaccinated” by then.
The resolution states that there had been 530,328 initial COVID-19 vaccinations in West Virginia, and another 355,892 complete vaccinations administered as of Tuesday, when Graves introduced the resolution.
Graves said the vaccination and recovery rates already should have provided for the state-of-emergency executive order to have been lifted to “restore liberty to our citizens.”
Among the executive orders that would remain in place are those that allowed for health care and child care workers to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week and receive the COVID-19 vaccination, as well as giving the National Guard and the Department of Health and Human Resources the means to administer those tests and shots.
Other executive orders that would remain intact affected unemployment benefits, tax deadlines, telehealth and licensing requirements for certain occupations. The Legislature has adopted some of the provisions of those executive orders as law this legislative session.
The order would allow the governor’s July 2020 executive order that established his mask mandate to expire.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said he appreciated the intent of the resolution, but he couldn’t support ending the mask mandate.
“If you remove the mandate, people think we’re in the clear,” Pushkin said. “It sends the message that we’re completely in the clear. We are so close to the finish line here. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not quite there yet.”
The House’s vote comes a day after the official death of a bill that was meant to limit a governor’s authority during a state of preparedness or emergency over an apparent disagreement between the Senate and House.
House Bill 2003 originally put a stop clock of sorts on states of emergency or preparedness and would have required the Legislature to extend them. The House had intended for the bill to end the current state of emergency and argued about whether its language was clear.
When the bill went to the Senate, senators took out provisions requiring the Legislature to intervene. Instead, they required the governor only to submit reports to the Senate president, House speaker and the Joint Committee on Government and Finance to keep states of emergency or preparedness in effect.
The Senate’s version of the bill also stated that it would not affect the COVID-19 state of emergency.
Members in both chambers, where Republicans hold supermajorities, refused to cede to the others’ position. Conference committees from the House and Senate weren’t able to reach an agreement on the bill last week.
Justice declared the state of emergency via an executive order on March 16, 2020.
The Senate and the House also couldn’t agree last year on a special legislative session to administer $1.25 billion West Virginia received in federal CARES Act money.
The House garnered the required three-fifths of members to call a special session early last summer, but the Senate did not gain enough support to petition the governor to call the special session.
Justice called the House’s action “nothing but politics.”
Delegates have said Justice appointed former Senate president Mitch Carmichael to be director of the Economic Development Office and backed a subsequent bill to elevate that post to a Cabinet-level position as a reward for Carmichael blocking that special session last year.
In March, Justice called those accusations unfounded and utterly ridiculous.
As of March 28, West Virginia was one of 16 states that remained under a state of emergency with no set end date, according to tracking by the National Academy for State Health Policy. States of emergency in 33 states either already have expired or are set to expire by the end of June. A state of emergency in Michigan was overturned last fall by the Michigan Supreme Court.
The legislative session ends Saturday.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the intent of House Concurrent Resolution 104. A previous version of the story stated the resolution would end the state of emergency Gov. Jim Justice declared March 16, 2020. The resolution would end certain executive orders signed by Justice through his authority under the state of emergency, but not the state of emergency itself.