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Legislators discuss upcoming session

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Jan 15, 2021

Sen. Patricia Rucker shares her thoughts on education at the Legislative Town Hall meeting hosted on Zoom by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. Toni Milbourne

CHARLES TOWN — The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Town Hall Meeting on Jan. 7 allowed legislators to share with Chamber members their insights into the upcoming legislative session.

Attending the meeting, which was held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, were Delegate Paul Espinosa, (66th District), Delegate John Doyle (67th District), Delegate Wayne Clark (Delegate 65th District and State Senator Patricia Rucker. Senator John Unger was unable to attend, due to a previous commitment.

The format of the meeting allowed each representative to briefly outline his or her plans. Moderator Hans Fogle kept the pacing moving, leaving time after initial statements for each of the legislators to respond to questions.

Clark began the discussion, saying he plans to spend the initial part of the term — his first — learning the ropes. He does have a strong interest in making it easier for businesses in West Virginia.

Espinosa, who has served for several terms, said he will once again serve as House Majority Whip in the new session, as well as serve on the House Finance and Rules Committee, Technology and Infrastructure Committee and Banking Committee. He sees the issues of licensure for small businesses, horse funds and school choice as predominant topics this session.

Along with focusing on education bills, Doyle is looking ahead at examining ground water regulations, allowing customers to receive credits back from power companies for solar and other forms of clean energy.

Rucker will once again serve as the education chair for the Senate.

“Education is my priority,” Rucker said, mentioning she will continue to work toward flexible options for parents, families and students in the state’s education system.

One question posed to the legislators focused on the possibility of raising the homestead exemption for seniors in the state. They all agreed the issue will continue to be discussed, although is not an easy thing to implement.

“One of the big challenges is getting support from other counties,” Espinosa said. “Those in more rural counties see it as a negative impact, rather than how we see it as a benefit here in the Eastern Panhandle.”

Doyle pointed out that to effect the change, it would require a constitutional amendment.

The legislators also discussed protocols for COVID-19 safety, during the legislature’s in-person meetings.

“I am happy that the Senate broadcasts everything,” Rucker said, indicating more people are in-tune with what is going on in state Senate, due to the use of technology.

Espinosa said the House has not advanced quite so far as to broadcast everything; however, he believes there is plenty of space to social distance within the chambers.

On other topics related to the pandemic, Espinosa said he is not sure if there are plans to increase funds for vaccines; more information should be released at the governor’s State of the State Address in early February.

Doyle suggested the Legislature should consider stipends from the state, in addition to those offered to small businesses, from the federal government. A possible move to decrease income tax would likely see an increase in some other tax, Doyle said.

The legislators are scheduled to be in Charleston for their opening session on Feb. 10.