Legislative landscape changing

From Staff Reports

CHARLESTON — Though they suffered some important losses, Republicans retained control of both houses of the state Legislature during the Tuesday election.

Unofficial results of the balloting early Wednesday indicated that the next regular session of the Legislature, beginning in January, will remain in GOP hands. The state Senate will be composed of 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats, while the House of Delegates will have 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats.

Some ground was lost by the Republicans, however. The current balance of power in the Senate is 22 GOP members to 12 Democrats. The House has 64 Republicans and 36 Democrats.

A key loss for Republicans was Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, who was defending his seat. He was defeated by Democrat challenger William Ihlenfeld, in a 16,867-14,857 race, according to unofficial returns. Ihlenfeld will represent the First District, which includes Brooke, Hancock and Ohio counties and a substantial portion of Marshall County.

In the House, Del. Riley Moore, R-Jefferson, had been tapped to become majority leader in the new Legislature. However, on Tuesday, he was defeated by Democrat challenger John Doyle, who had served previously in the House. That left Republicans to consider another lawmaker as majority leader.

Following the election, state Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, termed the results an affirmation of GOP policies.

“Voters across West Virginia sent a strong message today in support of a brighter economic future. With wages rising, unemployment dropping and the economy growing, families across the Mountain State are benefiting from our pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda. With President Trump’s help we will continue to power the economic engine and make West Virginia great again,” Carmichael said in a press release.

Continuing tax and regulatory reform reportedly are on the Republican leadership’s agenda for the upcoming legislative session. It will be made easier by a strong turnaround in state revenues.

That upswing prompted Gov. Jim Justice to suggest lawmakers should grant teachers and other state employees another 5 percent pay raise, following up on one provided last spring. In addition, the Legislature should augment its already substantial contribution to the Public Employees Insurance Agency by an additional $100 million, Justice said. That would bring total taxpayer support for the PEIA to about $675 million a year.

Carmichael and other Republican leaders had agreed with the governor’s recommendations and said they would be pursued early next year.