Tax elimination among West Virginia legislative priorities

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia legislative leaders want to attract more jobs by addressing certain taxes and expand opportunities for workforce training and community and technical college enrollment.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw discussed the priorities Tuesday.

The news conference was held outside the state Senate chambers, the same spot where thousands of teachers gathered during boisterous rallies last year during a nine-day strike in which they ultimately won a 5 percent pay increase. Gov. Jim Justice is planning another
5 percent raise for them this year.

"We recognize that our students are the most important aspect of our future," Carmichael said. "We want to empower and enable them to be all that they can be. It's critically important that we provide them with a world-class education."

Carmichael also said a bill that died in the House last year will be reintroduced to provide free community and technical college for in-state residents. Recipients would have to pass a drug test, perform community service and work in West Virginia after graduation.

Other expected legislation would include unspecified expanded opportunities for workforce training.

"Empowering people, whether they're students or those returning to the workforce, to gain a stackable skill set that they can take to the marketplace and earn a living and be productive members of society is a worthy, worthy, worthy investment," Carmichael said.

Carmichael also said he supports establishing charter schools in West Virginia, although the governor indicated earlier Tuesday he was opposed to the move and instead wants to keep public education a centerpiece.

Lawmakers also plan to introduce bills that would eliminate a state tax on Social Security benefits and phase out a tax on business equipment and inventory.

The inventory tax bill failed to pass last year. It has been viewed as a roadblock to the state economy and job growth. But revenue from the tax would have to be replaced — most of that money goes to counties to support their school systems.

Carmichael said no bills that would raise taxes are expected to be introduced.

Other planned bills would enhance broadband internet access and would make it easier for adults to become foster parents. Hanshaw said the theme of this legislative session will be to make West Virginia "the best place to raise a family."

Another expected bill would address the state's opioid addiction crisis. West Virginia leads the nation by far in the rate of drug overdose deaths. Hanshaw said the bill would help law enforcement and give convicted drug offenders an opportunity to re-enter the