Education and Workers' Comp Debated on the House Floor

Feb 10, 2015

Credit West Virginia Legislative Services

Coal mine safety was on the minds of Democrats in the house Tuesday; that issue was House Bill 2011, dealing with deliberate intent.  The measure doesn’t address mine safety standards, but those opposed to the bill said it will hurt miners.

Emotions were high on the floor as House Bills 2005 and 2011 were discussed for passage.

House Bill 2005 relates to alternative programs for the education of teachers.

Delegate Amanda Pasdon, the House Education Chair, stood to explain the bill.

“We know that there’s many counties around the state that do not have a qualified pool of applicants," Pasdon said, "There are classrooms without teachers, there are about 300 classrooms that do not have a highly qualified educator in them right now, which means they have someone filling a role, but they are not highly qualified. What this bill does is try to expand that pool of options for our counties. This is not a mandate from Charleston; this is a tool in the toolbox for our counties to give them the opportunity to look outside of our normal, traditional methods and hire in instances that they could find someone in their community that could fit their need.”

Many Democrats stood to oppose the bill saying it was cheapening the process many teachers have to go through to acquire their degrees.

Delegate Nancy Guthrie stood to oppose the bill saying the focus should be raising the wage for teachers.

“I was hoping that we would be able to count on all of us rallying together to fight against cuts for children and families as we did last year, to fight against cuts for higher education, as we all believe we should do, and yet what we’re doing in a tight budget year is something that every teacher that I’ve received letters from has said please don’t do," Guthrie said, "I think it undermines the credibility when what we really ought to be doing is knuckling down and trying to prioritize our budget, so that we give teachers the pay raise that they need so that we can reduce the shortages that we’ve got.”

Delegate Pasdon stood again to support the bill in her closing remarks.

“We have over 700 teaching vacancies, as you’ve heard many times, through many references and speeches on this floor today, that number is from the Department of Education’s 2014 report," Pasdon said, "We have over 300 teachers teaching outside of their field of study. This isn’t anything against teachers, for those teacher that have stood with us and worked hard to get their certification and their education, thank you, because we don’t pay you enough, and we don’t appreciate you enough. This isn’t against teachers, this is, as the gentleman from the 7th put it, about 280,000 little lives that are depending on us to do the right thing for them. It is our responsibility to make sure that we put the most effective educator in front of them to give them the best foundation that they could possibly have to take on the role of their dreams of the 21st Century.”

House Bill 2005 passed 60 to 35.

The next bill that caused a lot of debate on the floor was House Bill 2011, another priority tort reform bill.  It’s called the deliberate intent bill…meaning an injured employee must provide proof that an employer deliberately intended to do something to cause the injury. 

Delegate Shawn Fluharty opposed the bill.

“This is a public relations ploy, that’s what this is," Fluharty said, "and you want to call it tort reform, but I think that’s a wrong assertion to make, it’s really safety reform, because what it’s doing is creating an environment that is created the likes of Sego, creating the environment of protectionism, making it impossible to bring a claim; protectionism of the likes of Don Blankenship, who currently is facing criminal indictment. We should just call this thing the Don Blankenship Protection Act, if you really want to get down to it.”

Numerous Democrats stood to oppose the bill calling the bill grotesque and impossible for employees to be protected. Delegate Barbara Fleischauer stood and said she had 29 reasons to oppose the bill and read the names of the 29 miners who died in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in 2010.

By the end of the debate, Delegate John Shott, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Democrats are mischaracterizing the bill. He went on to point out that the disasters at Sago in 2006 and the Upper Big Branch disaster, had they happened today, those miners would be protected under the bill because of the immense about of evidence of violations.

Shott then held up an advertisement to further his point.

“This is an advertisement online from a local lawyer, and here’s what he says, if you are injured on the job under certain circumstances, you may be eligible for a deliberate intent and workplace injury case, which is unique to the state of West Virginia, which is unique to the state of West Virginia. Well ladies and gentlemen, we can remain unique and continue to kiss our kids goodbye, our grandkids goodbye, or we can get in line with the rest of the country, compete with our neighbors, and have a reasonable deliberate intent statue. We are not abandoning the idea that there are situations in which employers do extreme things that will injure our employees, that is preserved in here, but we do need predictability, we need certainty and we need to be in the mainstream of this country,” Shott said.

House Bill 2011 passed 59 to 38.  It now heads to the senate for consideration.