HUNTINGTON — As West Virginia’s regular legislative session started Wednesday, local delegates and senators believe the bar has already been set for success.
After job-making moves that will affect Cabell and Wayne counties were made during a special session earlier this week, the legislative leaders now have their own expectations and hopes for the regular session.
Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell; Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell; Del. Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell; and Del. John Mandt, R-Cabell, as well as Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, applauded the attention and monies the federal government has given West Virginia in the past 18 months, which led to Monday’s special session and Wednesday’s announcement of a manufacturing steel mill with 800 jobs coming to Mason County.
With an electric bus manufacturing plant in South Charleston also being announced Wednesday, Rohrbach said he expects more announcements will come soon for other parts of the state. He believes it shows the economy of the state is starting to turn around.
“I think people are realizing West Virginia is actually a great place to do business,” he said.
Hornbuckle said he hopes it opens up more opportunities.
“Hopefully some different ancillary businesses will be able to locate here that could be able to use the manufacturing sites and the manufacturing plants,” he said. “I just think it’s a really good time, but we do have to work in a bipartisan manner to get some things done.”
Del. Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, said he believes business from the steel mill will trickle down to machine shops in his district.
Mandt said it would be huge for Cabell County residents.
“It’s amazing for Cabell County. It’s 20 miles away from the Barboursville area and 30 (miles) from Huntington,” Mandt said. “When you’re looking at 800 jobs and what that’s going to bring in and what will follow that company, this is a huge deal.”
Linville said it was important to continue looking at policies to keep those businesses in the state and help them grow. He said it’s not about jobs — it’s about careers.
“That’s the hard part … getting people to (bring) their businesses here and employ people,” he said. “Once you have them, it’s hard to pick them up and move it. So it’s easier for them to expand.”
Marshall University President Brad Smith also gave his take on the session, stating the significant economic announcements that came from the special session have set the bar for a great regular session.
“I am looking forward to partnering with our governmental leaders on the proposed higher education funding formula, among other important topics for our next generation of students,” he said. “I firmly believe that education is the great equalizer and an important investment in our state’s prosperity, and I am committed to ensuring our students are afforded every opportunity to excel on a regional and global stage.”
Looking to the regular session, on Hornbuckle’s radar is a young professional tax credit bill, which would give tax breaks to professionals ages 18 to 40 with student loans to encourage them to move to the state.
He said he is also working with the athletic trainer association and Marshall Sports Institute to help place athletic trainers in high schools across the state, which he said could help save young lives.
Del. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, is hoping to bring attention to volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services across the state. He said VFDs statewide are facing issues with recruitment, donations and funding. He discussed the possibility of bringing firefighter courses to high schools as a way to train and prepare students to join their local departments.
Rohrbach said he expects major things from the Health Committee, including bills that will help health departments and the delivery of health care. A few of his bills focus on substance use, substance use disorder recovery and housing.
Linville’s mind is on the broadband infrastructure legislation he hopes will bring speedy access to broadband and provide consumer protections and hold providers accountable for promises they’ve made to the state. Infrastructure would focus on roads and water as well, he said.
He also hopes for some type of tax relief being passed during the session.
Worrell said broadband and infrastructure were important to get more telehealth to senior residents. He said a project he is working on is to put telehealth services into Veterans of Foreign Wars lodges and senior centers.
“Salt Rock is a good 30 minutes’ drive down W.Va. 10 just to get to the Cabell Huntington Hospital,” he said. “So if they could go to their senior center there in Salt Rock and see their doctor, telehealth would be a big deal.”
Worrell is also focused on regulating pharmacy benefit managers to find a way to lower prescription costs and get more rebates to consumers, as well as looking at lowering insulin costs for more people. While the Legislature passed regulation costs last year, he said insurance companies have found loopholes for specific insulin types.
Mandt said three things are on his mind this session — the creation of jobs, requiring voter ID for mail-in and early voting, and bringing attention to the striking workers at Special Metals.
On the Senate side, Woelfel said he hopes the session avoids pettiness, divisiveness and party politics. He hopes that with all the problems the state faces, they can pull together for the good of the people.
“The way I see the divisiveness in Washington, we could go either way here — we can mimic that and we can be petty and vindictive,” he said, “or we could go the way West Virginians usually go, which is pull together, try to move the state forward.”
Woelfel has two sexual assault victim bills and a bill to allow medical cannabis patients to use edibles, which he thinks will help veterans. He is also focused on putting limitations on sober living homes to help fight the possible exploitation of people in recovery.
“There are sober living homes that are run righteously, and I mean that are run really well,” he said. “And we have some outliers that seem to take advantage of folks that need their help.”
The legislative session is set to end at midnight March 12.