Gov. Jim Justice motions with his hands during his seventh State of the State address on Wednesday. Photo courtesy the Governor's Office.

Lawmakers continued meeting in Charleston today. Last night, Gov. Justice gave his State of the State address. We’ve pulled out a few more things he said that are important. 

Below, more on the car tax rebate he hopes lawmakers will pass, public schools, which are a big topic lawmakers say they plan to address this session, and the state’s abortion ban. Also … could we see a run for the U.S. Senate from the term-limited governor? 

But first, an update from the Capitol this afternoon.

Note: Statehouse Spotlight will be off tomorrow and return on Monday. 

Family planning bill returns with fewer services

Delegate Amy Summers, R-Taylor, on Thursday during a meeting of the House Health and Human Resources Committee. Photo by Perry Bennett/WV Legislature.

Today in the House, lawmakers revamped and advanced a bill that died during the debate over abortion last summer. At the time, lawmakers said they were considering several family planning measures (including increasing access to birth control and some adoption tax credits) along with a near-total ban on abortions. While the abortion ban passed, the family planning measures were never finished.

Thursday, the House Health and Human Resources committee advanced HB 2002, which is the newest iteration of the measure. But unlike the bill from last year, this one provides smaller adoption tax credits (down from $8,000 to $5,000) and no longer makes birth control easier to access. Instead, it creates pathways for the state to fund organizations that encourage “pregnant women to give birth to their unborn children.”

When asked whether the House was considering other bills to help West Virginians who would have sought abortions and now are not able to, committee chair Delegate Amy Summers, R-Taylor, said, “This is the one.” —Allen Siegler

Notable quotables from Justice’s 72-minute speech

Gov. Jim Justice spoke for more than an hour last night in his seventh State of the State address. There’s not enough space in one newsletter to cover all of it but here are three notable quotes.

Car tax: “I’ve sent the bill. I’ve done exactly what I promised.” 

Justice has gone all-in on a plan to provide rebates for car taxes but on Wednesday seemed to acknowledge that his plan might not have support among Republican lawmakers.

His plan is complex by necessity. Lawmakers don’t have the power to outright eliminate the car tax after Amendment 2 was voted down in the November election, at least in part due to Justice’s campaign against the constitutional amendment. 

Tax policy experts that we spoke with last month were skeptical of Justice’s proposal, describing it as inefficient and less beneficial than he’s portraying it.

Public schools: “Everybody that wants to come to West Virginia says ‘how are your schools?’”

West Virginia’s public schools rank near the bottom in many categories including student test scores and college-going rates.

Justice echoed legislative leaders who’ve said that public schools will be a priority this session and endorsed a plan from House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, to put more teachers’ assistants in K-3 classrooms. But he also didn’t mention many of the biggest issues facing the public school system.

The state Board of Education, teachers’ unions and teachers have repeatedly said they need more funding. Justice proposed a 5% pay raise for all state employees on Wednesday night (which would include teachers) but his proposed 50% reduction of the state’s personal income tax would wipe out roughly a quarter of the state’s revenue.

Justice also said he’s introducing a bill to require schools to put all curriculum online. This is something that’s been popular in Republican-held state legislatures around the county but wouldn’t necessarily improve students’ classroom performance.

Abortion ban: “I promised you the very second you brought me a bill, I’d sign it. I did exactly that and I did it very proudly.”

Justice’s mention of West Virginia’s recently-passed abortion ban drew a standing ovation and cheers from gathered lawmakers on Wednesday. 

He initially called state lawmakers into special session last July to pass abortion legislation and his tax cut plan after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Republican lawmakers, despite having the votes and will to ban abortion, couldn’t find agreement.

A month-and-a-half later, they came back and banned abortion in a process that largely left members of the public in the dark and unable to give input on the bill. It was a moment of jubilation for conservative lawmakers and we saw that again on Wednesday night. —Duncan Slade

U.S. Senator Jim Justice?

Gov. Jim Justice makes his way into the chamber on Wednesday before giving his seventh annual State of the State address. Photo by Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography.

Justice, who is term-limited, also hinted at his future.

“I won’t be your governor a whole lot longer,” Justice said. “But I surely won’t go away. You know, in fact, you’re probably either be able to find me at home or you may find me in Washington.”

He has previously said he is considering running for the U.S. Senate in 2024 for the seat currently held by Democrat Joe Manchin. Congressman Alex Mooney has already announced that he will also run for that seat. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia’s other sitting U.S. Senator, attended Wednesday’s address and met with Justice on Thursday.

Justice used his annual address as an opportunity to sample some national conservative talking points about President Joe Biden, the U.S. southern border, critical race theory and abortion. Here’s a sampling:

  • “I watch what’s going on on this national scene right now with our President, and what’s going on in D.C., and for God’s sakes a living, there can’t be a rational human that thinks what’s going on is right.”
  • “If you look at what’s going on at our Southern border of this country, and you just think, you just think why are we tolerating this? Why in the world are we continuing to allow drugs to flow all across this great country and thousands and thousands and thousands die?” 
  • “All of our parents deserve to know exactly what’s going on in a classroom.  Without any question, our parents have always known what the best is for their kids.”
  • “I don’t tell you this to grandstand, because I don’t believe in that in any way. As long as I’m your governor, I will stand with life, period.” 

You can read the full transcript here.  —Duncan Slade