West Virginia Democratic Lawmakers Talk Priorities Halfway Through Session
CHARLESTON — With 30 days left in the 60-day legislative session in West Virginia, Democratic members of the House of Delegates and state Senate believe the Republican majorities are more focused on messaging bills than helping residents.
Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, and Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, represented their fellow Democrats Thursday morning in a press conference. As of Thursday, 69 bills have passed the Senate, 51 bills have passed the House and 12 bills have passed both bodies with four of those bills being signed by Gov. Jim Justice.
While Senate Bill 4 repealing the ban on construction of nuclear power plants received overwhelming support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, several bills working their way through are dividing members along party lines. Some of these include bills limiting abortion to 15 weeks, bills aimed at limiting discussion of philosophies derived from critical race theory and lowering the number of weeks one can obtain unemployment benefits.
On the other hand, bills important to the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate have not moved. Republicans enjoy supermajority status in both bodies with Democrats holding 22 seats in the House and 11 seats in the Senate.
“Let’s just say things could be going a bit better,” Young said. “We haven’t seen a lot of our legislation move yet. Not really surprising, but it is very disappointing.”
Some of these bills include tax breaks for college students to stay and work in West Virginia to help offset student loan repayment costs. Another bill would create a family paid leave and medical leave insurance benefits program, which would provide 12 weeks of eligible coverage per year. Lindsay, the lead sponsor of such a bill, said two Republican senators have similar legislation, but none of the bills are moving.
“If you’re truly serious about workforce participation, paid leave is the way to go,” Lindsay said. “Unfortunately, those bills aren’t moving. And I think I can speak for Delegate Young that if we could just get our foot in the door or some movement on that, that’s what will have a major effect on West Virginia. Not bills that cut unemployment benefits again only to reduce the insurance premiums on businesses.”
Young said she was disappointed in bills introduced by Justice that claim to help people, but really help big businesses. She singled out House Bill 4502, the BUILD WV Act. During Justice’s State of the State address at the end of January, Justice said this bill would provide tax credits for home builders for new construction to entice people to move to West Virginia to work. But Young said the bill really is a tax credit for larger property developers instead.
“It’s a bill to help developers build homes,” Young said. “What we’re not seeing is anything to help people buy homes, or young people who are trying to live here and do well. We’re not seeing anything like that.”
Lindsay was highly critical of two bills that passed the Senate earlier this week to lower the limit on weekly unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 12 weeks. Lindsay the bills were aimed at giving a break to businesses versus helping unemployed West Virginians re-enter the workforce.
“I would submit that the unemployment bills are bills that seek to divide,” Lindsay said. “(Republicans) want to go out and suggest to the public that (Democrats) are for supporting people who want to take advantage of the system. That’s not true. What Democrats support is getting people back to work. And those two bills will not do that.”
Lindsay and Young said they believe Republican lawmakers this session are more interested in pushing legislation aimed at helping incumbents facing party primaries in May and helping drive election turnout of base voters instead of bills that will help all West Virginians.
“They’re focused on very red meat issues that aren’t what people are talking about at the dinner table,” Young said. “It’s not helping anybody pay their bills. It’s not helping anybody advance in life. They are just trying to throw some meat out to the base.”