Legislative leaders set agendas for the 2022 session | News, Sports, Jobs

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GATHERING PACKAGE Steven Allen Adams – Lawmakers will meet under the Golden Dome of the Capitol on Wednesday for the 2022 legislative session.

CHARLESTON – Republican leaders in the West Virginia Legislature plan to focus their majority members on bills to improve the economy, while leaders in the Democratic minority want to focus on initiatives to keep the best and brightest in the state within its borders.

Majority and minority leaders in the Senate and House of Delegates briefed reporters and lobbyists on their legislative agenda during the West Virginia Press Association’s 2022 legislative outlook on Friday. The event took place virtually for the second year in a row.

The 2022 legislative session begins Wednesday at noon as the legislature rises and Governor Jim Justice delivers the State of State Address that evening. The 60-day session ends at midnight on Saturday March 12.

Senate Speaker Craig Blair R-Berkeley said he would introduce the first bill to the Senate on Wednesday. Senate Bill 1 would create a mutual insurance company for coal mine operators for coal mine reclamation obligations.

Drawing inspiration from similar efforts to privatize medical liability and workers’ compensation coverage, SB 1 would create a mining reclamation mutual to allow coal companies to band together to cover mining reclamation bond costs.

“There is a company that owns around 60% of the bonds”, Blair said. “If anything happened to this company, it would shut down the coal industry. It is also said to have a liability to the state of West Virginia of $ 1 billion to $ 8 billion. We cannot let this happen.

According to the Sierra Club, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has admitted that the mine restoration bond pool is “Extremely underfunded. “

“… West Virginia has admitted in court records that allowing a single mining operator to liquidate and abandon its mines could bankrupt one of the state’s major bond providers and exhaust the special state emergency rehabilitation fund for mine clean-up ”, the Sierra Club wrote in 2020.

Blair has said he expects the governor to present another lump sum budget for fiscal year 2023 starting in July. Last year, the Legislature passed a general revenue budget of $ 4.495 billion for the current fiscal year. December marked the end of the first six months of the fiscal year with $ 2.5 billion in year-to-date tax revenue, resulting in a surplus of $ 395.9 million.

“We are able to take these surpluses and allocate them to one-off capital expenditures to a higher degree, or to economic development that will have long-term smoothing benefits in the future,” Blair said.

Senate Republicans also want to focus on lowering unemployment insurance premiums for businesses, removing the state’s ban on nuclear power, and expanding solar and wind power for attract companies wishing to reduce their carbon footprint.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw R-Clay has said that one of the first bills House Republicans push will provide resources for industrial site preparation. Hanshaw said the Department of Commerce and the

The Ministry of Economic Development needs the tools and flexibility to prepare potential industrial and commercial sites for companies looking to the state.

“The site selection bill that we want to submit to the House for consideration next week would allow our Department of Commerce and Department of Economic Development to have more marketable sites and more marketable facilities ready to go.” present to prospects who have identified West Virginia as a place where they might consider relocating their business, ” said Hanshaw.

Hanshaw also wants legislation to encourage companies to use abandoned mines to search for rare earth elements, used in the manufacture of batteries and electronic components. Manufacturers are forced to rely on other countries, such as China, for rare earth elements.

“We know that our coal resources in West Virginia may be a treasure trove of rare earth elements, and we want to make sure that we have policies in place that allow the industry to grow around. these compounds that are in some of the refuge piles, some of the coal seams and some of the material, frankly, leftovers that were forgotten in West Virginia ”, said Hanshaw.

House Republicans will also consider legislation to create matching fund programs to allow small municipalities and communities to maximize the infrastructure dollars they have available through the US federal bailout and the hard infrastructure bill. adopted by Congress last November. They also want to make improvements to the state’s lab system, continue reforms to attract remote workers into the state, and expand broadband.

Senatorial Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, and Parliamentary Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, both believe lawmakers should focus on reversing the state’s population loss. While data last month showed a modest influx of new residents to the state, West Virginia has an older population combined with a low birth rate and young people leaving the state.

“We want to bring our people home and we want to keep our children here” Baldwin said. “This is a bipartisan consensus. No matter the party. Regardless of the location. It’s a West Virginia problem… We all know we face a myriad of challenges in West Virginia and most of them come down to population decline.

“When we think of legislation, we think ‘what can we do,’ and is that a priority that not only keeps our West Virgins here and helps bring back West Virgins who may have gone to Virginia- Westerner, but also helps those who have chosen to work and raise their families here ”, Skaff said.

Skaff and Baldwin both said their Democratic members wanted to introduce bills to help retain and recruit nurses and health care professionals in the state, incentives to train workers for occupations where demand is high, tackling the addiction problem in the state, making improvements to the Child welfare services and abuse and neglect helpline, and prescription drug prices .

(Adams can be contacted at [email protected])

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