This Week in the House

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
W.Va. State Capitol

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates gaveled in Wednesday, Feb. 10, for the 85th Legislature with a focus on carrying out the business of the state while keeping all participants safe from the threat of Coronavirus.

House Leadership has promised a swift and aggressive agenda to move major issues out of the way as efficiently as possible, in the event of a COVID outbreak, which could prematurely end the 60-day session.

“We are laser focused on quickly advancing legislation that will make West Virginia the easiest choice for families and for businesses,” said House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. “We have a strong leadership team ready to roll up their sleeves and put in the work to accomplish big things in a short amount of time.”

The major House committees have already been busy this week, advancing bills to promote job creation and economic growth as well as improve the quality of life in West Virginia and increase government transparency and integrity.

To achieve these goals, the first bill introduced in the House this week would create the country’s first Jumpstart Savings Plan designed by West Virginia Treasurer Riley Moore to help West Virginians who intend to enter a vocation or trade by providing a tax-advantaged savings account to help cover the startup costs, equipment, certifications and licenses needed to enter vocational trades.

“Treasurer Moore saw firsthand as a young man entering the welding trade how expensive it was to buy your own equipment and get certified to start working,” Hanshaw said. “He experienced a barrier to entering the workforce and has come up with something creative to help us put get more people working. This is exactly the kind of real-world, commonsense legislation we need to advance.”

House Bill 2001 is sponsored by Speaker Hanshaw, Delegates Ben Queen, R-Harrison; Jason Barrett, R-Berkeley; Guy Ward, R-Marion; John Paul Hott, R-Grant; Zack Maynard, R-Lincoln; Jeffrey Pack, R-Raleigh; Clay Riley, R-Harrison; Larry Pack, R-Kanawha; Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire; and Steve Westfall, R-Jackson. It has already been reported from the House Education Committee.

Perhaps no other issue has grown to touch as many lives every day as broadband availability. From remote classroom learning to telehealth and opportunities to work remotely, our ability to digitally connect with the rest of the world is more urgent than ever.

“We’re doing every possible thing we can to get people connected to the internet,” Hanshaw said. “We want to get people to come to West Virginia for the first time, and in a world where you can do your job from anywhere, we want you doing it from West Virginia.”

House Bill 2002, which has already passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, aims to remove any remaining regulatory hurdles to installing fiber and making it even easier to install by utilizing vertical real estate.

Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, is the lead sponsor of the bill, and he said it’s important to ensure broadband projects are able to advance quickly without roadblocks from the state’s permitting process, which is why the bill outlines time limits for agency-required reviews, approvals and forms.

Lawmakers are again turning their attention to education reforms this year, helping to provide families with more flexibility and options to select the best education system for them. House Bill 2012 would allow for virtual public charter schools and would increase the number of new, additional public charter schools that may be authorized and in operation in each successive three-year period, from three to 10.

“More than ever this year, I’ve heard from parents frustrated to the point of tears and looking for more education options that fit their kids,” said Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor. “We never want a student to be trapped in a school system that doesn’t work for her just because of her zip code.”

House Bill 2013 would create the Hope Scholarship Program to allow parents access to the amount of money a school district would receive to educate their children and to use that money to educate their children in the way they would choose. Educational expenses such as home tutoring and learning aids would be permitted through the program.

Both measures have been reported from the House Education Committee and House Bill 2013 is awaiting debate in the House Finance Committee.