West Virginia House members want more transparency, collaboration in the legislature for pandemic response

Coronavirus

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — West Virginia House members got a chance to ask questions to Gov. Jim Justice’s COVID-19 Task Force Monday, during a last-minute meeting at the house chamber.

House members of the Committee on Health and Human Resources said it was overdue.
Many said how to safely reopen West Virginia’s schools is the most pressing question from their constituents.

“I was hoping to see Clayton Burch, my constituents had a lot of concern about school re-entry and what it’s going to look like in protecting the staff the teachers and the students,” said Rep. Amanda Estep-Burton, (D-Kanawha).

Although a representative from the state’s Board of Education was absent from Monday’s meeting, other members of the Governor’s task force were there to take questions, like Gen. Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard. He told House members the state will not be relying on other countries for their personal protective equipment, as the National Guard is currently working with West Virginia University and prison inmates in creating their own.

Dr. Anye Anjad, a newly appointed state health officer, was also there. She reminded house members that while the pandemic has been going on, depression rates are going up, and the state is still suffering from opioid overdoses.

The meeting had about 50 percent attendance and while most delegates were there to pose questions from their constituents, they were also there to ask for more transparency and collaboration.

“Unfortunately, there hadn’t been a lot of communication between the legislative branch which is the branch closest to the people and the executive branch and the governor’s office,” said Representative Michael Pushkin, (D-Kanawha).

Pushkin said he wants more financial accountability, saying Justice does not have the constitutional authority to allocate public funds or use them as “budget backfill” like the $1.2 billion the state received in CARES Act money.

“I think it’s really important that we work together. There’s 100 members of the house and 34 members of the senate, and a governor, and so far the governor has done everything with his executive order. I like being involved in the decision-making process,” Estep-Burton said.

Other questions the house committee members asked were about more testing for West Virginia’s African American communities, privacy with contact tracing, and reimbursing funds to local health departments, and those who had to pay out of pocket for private COVID-19 testing.

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