CHARLESTON — With experience under their belts, the delegation of lawmakers representing Cabell County could be the example of how to navigate the upcoming legislative session during the national turmoil.
No new faces represent the area, which includes portions of Wayne and Lincoln counties, and the lawmakers have spent years now working together to pass legislation that benefits the region. The Herald-Dispatch caught up with some of those lawmakers Wednesday after they finished their first day back in the Capitol in 2021, and several said the relationships they’ve built leave them no worries about the upcoming session.
In the Senate, Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, will serve as minority whip for minority leader Stephan Baldwin from Greenbrier County. Woelfel said the supermajority of Republicans doesn’t worry him — he’s always been in the minority, so he’s always had relationships with the other side.
“We can’t afford to be partisan,” Woelfel said. “The state is not in great shape financially. The stimulus makes us artificially look better than we really are.”
Woelfel said his top priorities will include immediately abolishing the state’s tax on Social Security, instead of phasing it out over a few years as it’s written in code. He said all West Virginians need that extra funding because of the pandemic.
He said he is also wary of plans to eliminate the state’s income tax — a priority for Senate majority leadership — because the burden will need to be shifted elsewhere.
On the House of Delegates side, Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, has been named vice chair of the Health and Human Resources Committee. The health committee will be extra important this year as the body focuses on pandemic-related legislation. In the first week, Rohrbach said, the committee will roll out several pieces of pandemic-inspired legislation.
Rohrbach, who led pandemic work groups during the interim, said they want to take this opportunity to ensure the state is prepared for the next pandemic.
For example, Rohrbach said he wants to take a close look at the governor’s executive orders regarding telehealth and legalize whatever worked.
Del. Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, who serves on the health committee, said one silver lining of the pandemic could be the expansion of telehealth.
“I see real advantages for rural America,” he said.
Worrell would like to find a way to open telehealth-designated spaces inside public places like libraries or senior centers, maybe providing funding or establishing a mechanism for a fee to use the space.
The House health committee will also look at surprise medical billing and more medical billing transparency, Rohrbach and Worrell said.
Worrell said he will also continue to work across the aisle to further reduce insulin prices in the state. He said he wants to ensure the measures made by President Donald Trump go far enough.
While the pandemic is a focus, Rohrbach said he has a slate of substance abuse-related bills to introduce. He is no longer chair of the House substance abuse committee, but he remains a member. He said he thought they were really making progress and they need to continue to monitor new legislation, including the recovery housing registration.
Democrats in the House also said pandemic-related legislation will take priority, especially after all the flaws were revealed across several sectors.
Del. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, said he was among those who petitioned for the Legislature to come back for a special session in the fall to address the pandemic.
“This thing has shown where we have some flaws and inconsistencies,” Lovejoy said. “How do we capitalize on things that went well and fix things that did not?”
Specific areas for Lovejoy include food insecurity in the state and schooling.
Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said continuity of education is his focus, both K-12 and higher education.
“We’ve been dealt a bad hand because of the pandemic. We want to create some innovative solutions to help get our children through these tough times and add resources not just for the teachers but the parents out there,” Hornbuckle said.
Hornbuckle said he will also keep a focus on social justice issues, which he believes will be the main driver of attracting people back to West Virginia.
The two Democrats are two of just 23 Democrats in the House this year.
“I put time in developing relationships, and this is when it pays off,” Lovejoy said.
Since this session follows a gubernatorial election, the official start of the session is delayed until Feb. 10.