Why Senate Dems Say Floor Fight Is Bigger Than Charter Schools

Feb 24, 2015

An argument over parliamentary procedure Tuesday has Senate Democrats up in arms, accusing the Republican majority of disregarding the chamber’s standard rules of order.

Senators John Unger and Jeff Kessler discuss parliamentary rules while members of the media interview Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael.
Credit Martin Valent / West Virginia Legislative Photography

The disagreement started Monday when Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler successfully killed Senate Bill 14, a bill to create charter schools in West Virginia, during a Finance Committee meeting. Kessler, who said he simply counted during the meeting that he had a Democratic majority in attendance, made a motion to postpone the bill indefinitely.

Kessler maintained such a motion, according to the Jeffersonian Rules of Order, prevents lawmakers from taking up the bill for the remainder of the session.

“They accused us [Monday] of taking advantage of them politically,” Kessler said, “but they’ve been voting all session as a political block. I can count less than a half a dozen times where they broke rank and at the end of the day to say they lost one because someone was sick is wrong.”

In a press release Tuesday afternoon, the majority party explained three Republican Senators had missed the Finance meeting for various excused reasons, Sen. Chris Walters for a family illness, Sen. Jeff Mullins for an illness of his own and Sen. Tom Takubo to participate in a deposition.

Earlier Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael moved during a morning floor session to have the bill discharged from the Finance Committee, brought to the floor and read a first time, igniting tempers on the Democratic side.

“The bill wasn’t tabled, it was postponed indefinitely,” Senator John Unger said Tuesday. “It can only be reconsidered or taken from the table if someone tables it.”

“The idea is not a debate anymore about charter schools,” he said. “It’s the undermining of the Democratic process.”

The action sets a precedent to allow any bill to be pulled from a committee and debated on the Senate floor, Unger said, invalidating the entire committee process.

“Why even have committee meetings? Why not bring everything to the floor if what is decided in committee is not binding?” Unger said.

He added the decision also adds the potential to have lawsuits leveled against the state.

A release from the majority party said of the decision:

The full Senate, in adopting its own standing rules, has retained the power to withdraw any bill from any committee, even the President’s committee – the Committee on Rules – when the committee has not, for whatever reason, reported the bill.

Senate Bill 14 was read for a first time Tuesday meaning the bill could be up for a vote as early as Thursday.