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West Virginia House Amends Anti-Strike Bill, Removes Section Prohibiting Extracurricular Activities

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Perry Bennett
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West Virginia Legislative Photography
Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, (standing, right) answers questions of Del. Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, (standing, left) about an amendment to Senate Bill 11 on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.

The West Virginia House of Delegates has made a major change to a bill that deems strikes by public employees illegal. Lawmakers in the lower chamber adopted an amendment that now would allow extracurricular activities on strike days.

Senate Bill 11, as passed earlier this week in the upper chamber, would have prohibited extracurricular activities for students from taking place on days when a strike was occurring. The proposal also calls for school worker pay to be withheld — but returned if strike days are made up.

House leadership decided to bypass referencing the bill to any committees, which essentially put the measure on the fast-track to passage.

But with Senate Bill 11 on the floor amendment stage in the House, delegates removed a section that would have stopped extracurricular activities on days school workers are on strike.

Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, was the lead sponsor of the amendment. He said that section of the bill was unfair to students, noting that a whole host of school employees — from teachers to cafeteria staff or other service personnel — might be walking off the job.

“The problem is, you don't just punish the students in that school. You're punishing the students in the other school that would be having that event,” Rowe said. "And this could happen without any notice to anybody.”

House Education Chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, agreed with Rowe and supported the amendment.

“I think this is really about the kids,” Ellington said. “That's what our purpose is here — to make it better for them — and we shouldn't penalize them.”

Del. Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, spoke against the amendment. He argued that allowing for extracurricular activities on strike days could create a situation in which a teacher could miss the school day but be allowed to coach a game.

“We're telling those that violate that law, that very important law, that they need to be in this classroom [and] that it's okay — because the thing that they really enjoy doing after school — that they can be allowed to do with their students,” Gearheart said.

Lawmakers voted 75-24 to adopt the amendment to Senate Bill 11, with more than 50 Republicans signing on to the change.

The measure — which seeks to codify a 1990 opinion by the state Supreme Court that says strikes by public employees are illegal — follows walkouts by West Virginia teachers in 2018 and 2019.

Senate Bill 11 advanced to third reading and is slated to be up for passage Friday in the House. With the bill being altered by the House, the Senate would need to consider the changes.


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