As the new year begins, optimism seems to abound regarding the upcoming regular session for West Virginia’s 84th Legislature. The regular session begins Jan. 8, with the governor’s State of the State address at 7 p.m. that night at the State’s Capitol. With 2020 being an election year, it will be interesting to see the types of legislation presented this year.
One area of interest in the upcoming session is what should the state do with monies collected from opioid litigation settlements. According to statistics found in the Attorney General’s office, West Virginia has received approximately $84 million in settlement monies from opioid litigation. Currently, any monies received is split among three different departments. It is likely in the upcoming session, legislatures will be asked to consider a bill that will mandate the legislature to direct where those monies are spent. The hope is to invest some of those monies in treatment programs for those addicted to opioids. Some funding may be allocated for new neonatal abstinence syndrome facilities. These are symptoms babies experience after being exposed to addictive substances by the mother prior to birth.
Another topic to be debated and voted on this session is the state’s business and inventory tax. This is a tax levied on property and goods held by business. West Virginia is one of about 14 states which have such tax. Proponents of repealing the tax assert the current tax discourages companies from moving to or expanding business in West Virginia.
Opponents of repealing the tax assert the monies collected from the tax go directly to the county level and if repealed would leave counties to figure out how to fund the shortfall. One thought is property tax maybe have to be increased. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy says the tax raised $209 million in state revenue last year. Much of that money is then sent to county governments and local school boards. Personally, I believe that the state’s faulty infrastructure and lack of broadband capabilities have much more to do with the lack of business capital investment in West Virginia than does a business inventory tax.
Lastly, I am hopeful we will see legislative actions to allow a person to defend themselves from physical harm without the fear from being terminated from employment. In a recent terrible legal decision, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that an employer could lawfully fire an employee who defended himself after being physically attacked by a co-worker while at work. With this decision, the court indicated it was not willing to protect employees against retaliatory conduct by employers and, in many cases, will leave employees without a remedy if fired when using self-defense. Because the court would not provide these basic employment protections, the legislature should act on this topic.
Persons wanting to run for office in West Virginia will have two weeks in January to officially file as candidates. The filing period begins Monday, Jan. 13. In 2020, West Virginia residents will have until April 21 to register to vote in the 2020 primary election. Early voting will be from April 29 to May 9, and Election Day will be May 12.