Marquee Proposals Fail in 2019 Legislature, Hangup on School Employee Raises Forces Special Session

Mar 10, 2019

The West Virginia Legislature’s 60-day regular session could very well be remembered more for the bills that failed as those that passed. Top-priority proposals -- and some measures that sprung up through the legislative process -- fell by the wayside as the clock ticked toward midnight Saturday and lawmakers adjourned sine die.

Ambitious proposals like a 120-plus-page education reform package, a measure calling for work requirements for Medicaid recipients, a proposal that would have allowed concealed handguns on college campuses, a bill allowing homeschool students to participate in extracurricular activities at secondary schools and a promised pay raise for teachers and school service personnel all fell short this session.

But with school employee pay raises and other aspects of public education on a special session call from Gov. Jim Justice, some of those failed measures are likely to see some life again.

Education Omnibus Effectively Killed on Motion to Postpone Indefinitely

Arguably the most talked about piece of proposed legislation this year was a long, sweeping and controversial education reform package known as the “omnibus.” Senate Bill 451 tied school employee pay raises, tax credits and school funding to components opposed by public educators, including the development of charter schools and education savings accounts.

After an unorthodox course through the Senate -- including being taken up by the upper chamber’s 34-member Committee of the Whole -- the measure brought on the second statewide teacher strike in as many years. Senate Bill 451 saw a back and forth between the two chambers, but was effectively killed on a motion in the House to postpone action on the bill indefinitely.

That motion came from Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, and was adopted on a 53-45 vote.

“I had the energy of the teachers up in the gallery who were just down here and they wanted that bill gone. We had 12 members of the of the majority party who just felt like this was a bad bill and it was time to put it behind us and start over,” Caputo said. “But I give all the credit to the teachers and their tenacity and their drive that they came down here and expressed their concerns about their profession.”

Medicaid Work Requirements Pulled from House Special Calendar on Crossover Day

A measure calling for work requirements for those who receive Medicaid benefits sprung up quickly later in the session. The bill originated in the House Finance Committee and made its way to the House floor.

But on Day 50, the deadline for bills to pass their chamber of origin, the bill was pulled from the House Special Calendar (active) and place on the House Calendar (inactive).

“There were actually two bills that I wanted. The Medicaid work requirements and then I wanted the personal income tax reduction fund,” House Finance Chair Eric Householder. “But unfortunately, both those bills were on the same night as campus carry. I made a sacrifice to pull those two bills.”

Householder said he had the bill pulled given the anticipated fight over the campus carry bill -- another measure that failed to make it through this session.

“We didn't get off the floor until after 11 that night. It was four and a half hour debate just on campus carry,” Householder said.

Campus Carry Goes Down in Senate Judiciary Committee

The Campus Self Defense Act, House Bill 2519, was another widely discussed piece of legislation that failed this session.

The measure passed the lower chamber after a long and passionate debate on Day 50, known around the Capitol as Crossover Day. 

But House Bill 2519’s time was short lived in the Senate. The bill was rejected on a 7-9 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sens. Charles Clements (R-Wetzel) and Ryan Weld (R-Brooke) joined Democrats to vote the measure down.

Weld said, for him, it was about allowing local control.

“I think the government makes the best decisions closest to the people, Weld said, “and so the campus carry bill ---  I kind of saw is kind of being incongruent with that. I felt that bill was taking the ability of a campus to decide on its own -- on a very significant, important matter -- away from them.”

‘Tim Tebow’ Bill Discharged from Committee But Rejected on House Floor

House Bill 3127 would have allowed homeschool students to participate in secondary school extracurricular activities. Known colloquially as the “Tim Tebow bill,” the proposal had been completed last legislative session but Gov. Jim Justice vetoed it.

This session, Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, successfully moved to discharge the bill from committee.

“That’s a population of our constituents that's not really being heard. I feel that they should be represented just like everyone else,” Ellington said.

When the measure went to a vote on the House floor, it was rejected on 42-56 vote.

House Rejects Joint Resolution on Impeachment Proceedings

A joint resolution that would have called for a constitutional amendment to clarify the judicial branch’s role – or lack thereof -- in impeachment proceedings was rejected on the final day of session.

With joint resolutions requiring a two-thirds majority in each chamber, Democrats banded together to stop the measure from going to a vote of the general public as a constitutional amendment.

The upper chamber cleared the resolution on a 27-6 vote nearly a month ago, but it was rejected by the House on a 54-41 vote early Saturday.

Teacher, School Service Personnel Salary Hikes Get Stuck in Senate Education Committee

A day after Senate Bill 451 was postponed indefinitely in the House, a measure focused strictly on teacher, school service personnel and state police pay raises began to run in the House Finance Committee. House Bill 2730 quickly cleared the lower chamber, but had no traction in the Senate.

The Senate wound up running pay raises of their own -- but their bill focused only raises for state police. Senate Bill 544 was ultimately agreed upon between both chambers and gives state police an average 5 percent hike in pay for the upcoming fiscal year.

Pay raises for teachers and service personnel -- at a cost of $67 million -- were set aside in the budget bill. But with lawmakers failing to make good on that pre-midterm election promise, those raises will be a part of an upcoming special session.

Special Session Coming on Pay Raises, ‘Education Betterment’

Gov. Jim Justice issued the proclamation for a special session this week. In a news release announcing the call to come, Justice said he is still committed to pay raises, wants to help smaller counties with school funding and also get more nurses, counselors and psychologists into the system.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael said he and other legislative leaders are already making plans on how the governor’s call will materialize as far as what is included in one or more bills.

“I don't see it being a massive number of separate bills. But I think there will be more than one bill and we'll try to determine if it's appropriate to package those together again and try to push it across the finish line,” Carmichael said.

The governor’s special session call specifically includes pay raises for school employees, but is otherwise broad and vague. Justice’s proclamation says he wants lawmakers to consider matters “relating generally to improving, modifying, and making efficiencies to the state's public education system and employee compensation.”

Carmichael said some aspects of Senate Bill 451 could still be on the table when the Legislature returns to craft a bill that conforms to the governor’s call.

“School choice is still an option that the union leadership doesn't like, but that'll be a part of our agenda as we move forward with a special session,” Carmichael said.

With the Legislature already gaveled in and in recess for the special session, lawmakers are now tasked with engaging with teachers and parents to see how they think public education can be improved.