After a legislative session that featured significant discussion and action on topics long championed by Republicans, the majority party is set to make more changes but this time with interim meetings.
West Virginia Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred announced this year’s interim schedule on Thursday, providing another example of how Republicans are departing from the practices of the past.
Instead of the usual three-day meetings, which had generally been held every month, Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, have opted for four two-day sessions this year.
“We’re trying to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” Cole said Thursday. “And maximize the best use of the Legislature’s time.”
While attending interims in the past, Cole said he’s often found himself going to just a single meeting each day. “Too many times it’s just filler,” he said.
But this year, Cole contends things will be different. “We want people to come in and work just like we did in session.”
The interims officially begin with a one-day session on April 13. That will largely allow the Joint Committee on Government and Finance to begin having discussions on topics that will be brought up during next year’s session.
The first set of two-day meetings will be in June, followed by more in September, October and November.
Although the schedule is scaled back compared to years’ past, Cole said select committees, like the Joint Committee on Government and Finance, have the ability to meet more frequently.
Cole said allowing select committees the opportunity to meet whenever necessary will not only save money but also be less of a logistical headache. “We don’t have to mobilize the whole Legislature and the whole staff,” he said.
Several key topics will be discussed during this year’s interims, he said, including Common Core, charter schools and lease integration, which is often referred to as “forced pooling.”
“We left some things undone that we have to get back to,” Cole said.
Calling the lease integration bill “critically important to West Virginia’s future,” Cole said, “Natural gas is one of the best things we have going forward.”
In addition to the three controversial topics, Cole reiterated the potential that the Legislature could be called in for a special session before next January.
If lawmakers express enough interest, Cole said he’s talked to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin about the need for a special session.
“He’s open to the conversation,” Cole said of Tomblin.
A special session could coincide with the abbreviated interim meetings or be entirely on their own, he noted, while also indicating that comprehensive tax reform would also be a topic of discussion throughout the interims.
“Let’s kill two birds with one stone if we can,” he said.
Whether or not lawmakers actually call for a special session, Cole is looking forward to the interims. “I think it’s a prudent use of the taxpayer’s money,” he said.
2015 Legislature interim meeting schedule is:
n April 13
n June 7-8
n September 13-14
n October 18-19
n November 15-16