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With a new supermajority, West Virginia Senate Republicans plan to roll out 125 key bills for the 2021 regular session.

The bills would run the gamut of the national GOP playbook, including tax cuts, rollback of regulations and professional licensing requirements, expansion of charter schools and the imposition of new restrictions on gubernatorial and judicial powers.

New Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, told a virtual version of the annual West Virginia Press Association’s Legislative Lookahead on Tuesday that all tax cuts — including a proposed phase-out of the state personal income tax — will be “revenue neutral.”

“There is no way you can take $2.1 billion of personal income tax and eliminate it in one year,” he said, citing the amount of revenue the tax — the largest component of the state’s $4.7 billion general revenue budget — brings in each year.

“I can tell you right now, it will be revenue neutral or less. Working West Virginians will have more resources in their pockets,” he said, suggesting there will be no tax increases to make up for lost income tax revenue.

That’s unlike a failed 2017 proposal to phase out the income tax that Blair and other Senate Republicans championed. It would have increased the state consumer sales tax to 8% and eliminated several exemptions.

Blair said the tax plan, which still is being devised, will be funded through “finding efficiencies in state government” — a euphemism for budget cuts — and growth in state population and businesses. He reiterated an unsubstantiated claim that elimination of income taxes would result in 400,000 people moving to the state in the next decade.

Blair also said the 2021-22 state budget will be an essentially unchanged “flat-line” for the third straight year. Given annual inflation, that would effectively amount to a spending cut for state agencies and programs.

Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, said Senate leadership will unveil 125 bills he said will take “bold steps to change the course of the future.” He offered this breakdown:

  • 27 government reform bills, including making permanent rollbacks of regulations temporarily eased during the pandemic. Other bills would lessen professional licensing requirements and restrict gubernatorial power during states of emergency.
  • Nine judicial reform bills. One would limit business liability in COVID-19 claims by employees and customers.
  • 21 education reform bills. Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said those include legislation to expand permitting of state-funded charter schools. Legislation passed in 2019 has yet to produce an operating charter school in West Virginia.
  • 12 tax reform bills.
  • 16 economic development bills.
  • Nine Health and Human Resources bills.
  • Nine elections bills. Roberts did not offer details, but Republican-controlled legislatures in other states are pursuing rollbacks of election-reform laws, including automatic voter registration, expansion of absentee voting by mail and of early voting dates and locations.

He said the list also includes three transportation and infrastructure, three agriculture and 16 “miscellaneous” bills.

Judiciary Vice Chairman Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said leadership also will push for resolutions for amendments to the West Virginia Constitution, including expanding legislative impeachment powers after the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the Legislature overstepped its constitutional authority in attempting to impeach four justices.

He said other proposed constitutional amendments would give the Legislature authority over taxation, powers that are currently restricted by tax provisions written into the constitution. Another amendment would give the Legislature power to approve or reject rules adopted by the West Virginia Board of Education.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said the Democrat superminority in the Senate will advocate for investment in water and sewer infrastructure and — on one issue with clear bipartisan support — for expansion of broadband internet statewide.

Baldwin said Democrats also want to see additional efforts to fight the state’s opioid drug crisis, a topic he noted was conspicuously absent from presentations by Senate leadership Tuesday.

Baldwin said Democrats also are concerned about accessibility, accountability and transparency during a legislative session that will be conducted in a Capitol that is effectively closed to the public.

“Sometimes, this place can be a bubble for 60 days, and I’m afraid that will be more the case with COVID,” he said.

Concerned that, without Capitol access, lobbyists will redouble efforts to wine and dine legislators after hours, Baldwin said Democrats will introduce a bill to prohibit lobbyists from buying meals for legislators.

He said Democrat senators also will maintain virtual office hours for the public, and he plans to conduct virtual briefings for legislative reporters who will not have access to the Senate floor this session.

Blair downplayed issues with accessibility, noting that the Senate for years has had technology providing livestreamed video telecasts of all floor sessions and committee meetings. By contrast, House of Delegates committee meetings are audio-only livestreams.

“We’ve got cellphones, we’ve got the digital technologies,” added Blair, who said he wants accessibility but also wants to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak among members, staff and the limited number of visitors to the Capitol.

Under the constitution, legislative regular sessions in years following gubernatorial election years are delayed for one month, with the 60-day session getting underway Feb. 10.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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