CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The first session of 84th Legislature started Wednesday with leaders pledging a bold agenda to make West Virginia the most attractive place in the country in which to live and do business.
“The theme of this legislative session is to make West Virginia the best place to live, work and raise a family,” said House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. “Everything we do will be with this goal in mind.”
Republican leadership, in cooperation with their counterparts in the state Senate, announced a comprehensive agenda earlier this week. That agenda included significant tax reforms, such as beginning the process to eliminate the property tax on business equipment and inventory to help attract job creators, and rolling back the personal income tax on Social Security income and improving to the Homestead Exemption to provide tax relief to senior citizens.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have also committed to continuing to improve compensation and benefits for teachers, school service personnel and state workers. Delegates will also propose additional incentives for those in high-demand fields, such as math and science teachers, to make those jobs more attractive.
Additional priorities include promoting broadband expansion and investment, expanding access to community and technical schools and workforce training programs, helping to recruit business start-up and investment capital, reforming the state’s foster care and adoption programs, improving the Second Chance for Employment Act, and creating education savings accounts for students with special needs.
“Whether it’s by helping job creators start businesses and attract capital, expanding broadband to open up new opportunities for our education system and markets for our entrepreneurs, we want to help make West Virginia the most attractive place to be for not just our citizens and businesses, but those who might consider moving here in the future,” Speaker Hanshaw said.
“My goal is that when we look back at the 2019 session, we will see it as a watershed year toward launching West Virginia to a higher level of prosperity. We turned the corner over the last few years, and now it’s time to reach to new heights.”
Gov. Jim Justice delivered his State of the State address Wednesday evening. He laid out many priorities that legislators were eager to begin addressing, including pay raises for teachers and public employees and proving additional funds to the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
“Governor Justice laid out a bold, ambitious agenda this evening,” Speaker Hanshaw said following the address. “He has many ideas I believe the House can embrace and our members will be excited to move forward on. We look forward to seeing more specific details of his proposals and expect we can work together to accomplish a great deal over the next 60 days.”
Gov. Justice also said he wants to begin diverting money from the recent Roads to Prosperity bond initiative to secondary and tertiary road repair.
House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, recently held a town hall meeting in her district where residents were vocal in asking for more attention to their secondary roads.
“We sing, ‘Country roads, take me home,’ but our country roads are in shambles,” Majority Leader Summers said.
In addition to the Governor’s plan, Majority Leader Summers said House Republicans will propose ideas to give local Division of Highways districts more flexibility and funding for maintenance, as well as provide citizens with more transparency on how their highways dollars are being spent.
“We need to give our districts more control to contract out maintenance so we can fix these secondary roads,” she said. “Meanwhile, we also want to make sure funds are being utilized appropriately and in sufficient amounts, and give our citizens the ability to see where their tax dollars are going.”