BERKELEY COUNTY, W.Va. (WDVM) — West Virginia is sitting on $1.25 billion from Washington for COVID-19 relief and some state legislators want a say in how it is spent.
There are some questions among state lawmakers about Governor Jim Justice’s discretion to spend those dollars. The priority is public health to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the governor is diverting funds for roads and some lawmakers want a special session to have a say in spending the federal money. One eastern panhandle state senator says if the money goes to infrastructure, the emphasis should be on making that infrastructure high-tech.
“What we need to do is really use that money for infrastructure, particularly in the area of broadband,” says State Sen. John Unger (D-Berkey, Jefferson). “And to be able to help strengthen the technology for our young people as they go back to school or as some will not be able to return to school.”
But some lawmakers in the eastern panhandle want to put the reins on Governor Justice and are circulating a petition for a special session to have a say in spending the federal money. And from even within the Republican Party, lawmakers say the call for the governor to convene a special session are falling on deaf ears.
“I think the people of West Virginia deserve legislative attention to this issue,” says Delegate Larry D. Kump (R – Berkeley, Morgan). “Hopefully the governor will have a change of heart. And hopefully more legislators will wake up to the need for a more broad forum regarding how this federal money is spent.”
And while legislative committees do meet in interim sessions during the year, their action is useless without the full chambers of both the House and Senate convening. Delegate Kump says he is preapred to take the demand for a special session to a new level, he says a Freedom of Information Act request is pending to reveal who has — and who has not – signed the petition for the governor to call the legislature back to the capitol in Charleston.
Under the West Virginia Constitution, the governor must call a special session if 60 percent of lawmakers petition for one.