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Special session is a good idea

As they drove out of Charleston after the conclusion of their regular annual session earlier this year, observant West Virginia legislators had to have expected COVID-19 would hit our state. Just days later, it did.

But it has been four months since the first coronavirus case was recorded in our state, and lawmakers have not been in session since. There have been multiple interim committee meetings, but no formal session.

West Virginia’s response to COVID-19 has been held firmly in the hands of Gov. Jim Justice. It is to his credit that he has done many things better than chief executives in other states. To cite just one example, his actions regarding nursing homes have saved lives.

A substantial number of legislators think it is time they exercised some authority. More than 60 members of the House of Delegates — a comfortable majority — have sent Justice letters asking him to convene a special session of the Legislature. Both Democrats and Republicans are well represented in the movement.

Justice is resisting. He says he fears political considerations will take precedence over bipartisan action in a special session.

West Virginia’s constitution allows lawmakers to call themselves into special session, if 60 percent of the members of both chambers vote to do so. Thus far, it does not appear such a “supermajority” is available in the state Senate.

Justice should consider calling a special session on his own, for both practical and political reasons.

First the practical: Enactment of certain new laws related to the coronavirus epidemic could make it easier for state government and West Virginians to deal with the crisis. Again to cite just one example, reopening schools could be a smoother process with help from certain legislation.

Now the political: Justice does seem to have done a good job in battling COVID-19. But Mountain State residents can be a cynical lot, and the history of corruption in our state makes that understandable. One-man rule during a crisis — and sole control by the governor of $1.25 billion in federal relief aid — will rub some voters the wrong way.

It has been noted that our way of government can be a messy, inefficient, sometimes vicious process. West Virginians are well aware of that.

We also recognize that failure to rely on separation of powers can be hazardous to our wallets and our liberties.

Call the special session, governor. Most lawmakers will be on the ballot in November, too — and voters will take note if they permit a political circus to occur this summer.

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