And we’re off!
Wednesday’s start to West Virginia’s 82nd Legislature carried with it a strong sense of history. After all, the state had not had Republican majorities in the Senate and House of Delegates since 1932.
Republicans did their best to avoid spiking the ball, but they were understandably gleeful. Democrats, facing the unfamiliar position of the minority party, were gracious.
And Governor Tomblin, in his state of the state address last night, acknowledged the dramatic power shift of the last election by calling for cooperation for the greater good of the state.
Everybody was on their best behavior… on day one. Ahead lies the work of lawmakers during the 60-day session, where policy differences and political squabbles are inevitable.
Delegate Tim Armstead set the tone in his first speech as House Speaker. “While we all celebrate the significance of this day, it’s important to also recognize we have big challenges ahead, and these challenges call for bold solutions.”
The GOP has started fast, introducing a series of significant pieces of legislation on the first day.
There are at least a half dozen bills dealing with various aspects of legal reform, a top priority of the GOP this session. Another rolls back the so-called “cap-and-trade” law passed at the behest of Joe Manchin when he was Governor. House Bill 2014 authorizes charter schools in the state.
The GOP also promises a hard look at the state budget. One bill calls for a specific audit of the state Division of Highways and another requires the Legislative Auditor to conduct performance reviews and audits for every government spending unit.
Republicans also introduced a bill making the election of all judges—from the state Supreme Court to magistrates—non-partisan.
And while it was not introduced yesterday, Republicans are also readying a fetal pain bill that outlaws abortions after 20 weeks. That passed both chambers last year, but was vetoed by Governor Tomblin.
Last night Tomblin talked about a better future for the state. When they were in charge, Democratic leaders sounded the same note. Speaker Armstead said yesterday, “There are many good people here who want a better future for our state. I am confident we will work together to fulfill this vision.”
Well, that’s the hope, but it’s not necessarily the nature of politics and policy-making. Within an hour of Armstead being sworn in, House Republicans and Democrats were locked in a tenacious debate over a proposed rule change requiring economic impact studies on proposed legislation.
The GOP has a 64-36 majority and therefore prevailed on the issue. And that’s going to be the story many times this session because of the Republican advantage in both chambers.
Yesterday was historic, but that was an offshoot of the November General Election. The challenge ahead is whether the new majority will use the next 59 days to make their own history.