Legislature to meet Monday on vetoed bills

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Legislature will reconvene in special session Monday.

The announcement from House Speaker Roger Hanshaw and Senate President Mitch Carmichael did not include an agenda. It said the special session will resume at 2 p.m. Monday.

The agenda is anticipated to cover the bills vetoed for technical reasons earlier this year by Gov. Jim Justice, House of Delegates spokesman Jared Hunt said.

The governor for the session will need to issue an updated call with the bills he vetoed for technical reasons, Senate spokesman Jacque Bland said. The call Justice issued back in March related generally to education issues, so he’ll need to issue another call that expands on that, she said.

It’s unlikely education reform will be addressed, Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, said. That is likely to be taken up in June or July with a big aim of the House plan to place more local control on schools with the county boards of education, he said.

“It’s my understanding we’re not going to address the education bills during the May interim meetings,” Kelly said.

Interim legislative committee meetings are scheduled Monday morning. The Commission on Special Investigations and the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding meets 9-11 a.m. and the Joint Committee on Government and Finance meets at 11 a.m., according to the agenda on the Legislature’s website.

A press conference is expected today by the Republicans to announce their proposed education reforms. Hanshaw, in a press release, said a consensus was near.

However, Kim Randoph, a spokesman for the West Virginia Education Association, said no one from the teachers association participated in reaching the consensus. The Republicans generally have proposed the same things, such as educational savings accounts and charter schools, that were disputed in the general session, she said.

“I think their agenda is their agenda,” Randolph said.

A work stoppage by teachers and service personnel was held in February during the session in defiance of the provisions in Senate Bill 451, also called the education omnibus bill, that included pay raises, charter schools and educational savings accounts and greater powers for local schools to attract teachers in certain disciplines, among other provisions.

If educational issues are taken up Monday, “we would hope that the Legislature would listen to the voice of West Virginians,” Fred Albert, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said, citing the report from the Department of Education from the information obtained at the meetings on education held around the state.

Hanshaw Monday said lawmakers and education officials are near consensus on education reform.

“Our House GOP caucus has already discussed this plan, and I have met with Gov. Justice, Senate leaders, and members of the state Board of Education to build support for this path forward,” Hanshaw said. “In the coming days, I also plan to meet with my colleagues across the aisle to build bipartisan support for this plan. It is my hope that we will be able to come together and champion this approach in bipartisan fashion.”

Hanshaw said delegates in recent weeks have been gathering information from parents, administrators, teachers, service personnel and students and working with the state Board of Education to improve the education system.

“I believe we are approaching a consensus around a plan that would give local school boards more flexibility and autonomy over their local systems, while removing much of the cumbersome legislative mandates that have shackled the hands of our professional educators,” he said.

The plan would maintain the Legislature’s responsibility to fund schools and but give county school boards under the oversight of the state Board of Education more control, Hanshaw said.

“We know the one-size-fits-all approach of regulating education from Charleston has not been working for our local school systems,” Hanshaw said.

Democrats in the Senate Monday proposed their education package.

They proposed programs to reduce substance abuse in newborns by funding Drug Free Mother-Baby Programs, place a full-time mental health professional in all schools, remove burdensome regulations to Innovation Zones, Local School Improvement Councils and virtual schools, amend the state aid formula to ensure local funds are controlled locally and modernize the alternative education allocation to counties so they can meet the unique needs of their students.

“One of our issues with SB 451 during the regular session was that it was all one bill with a non-severability clause,” said Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam. “This package contains six separate bills–that we think will work-that can be discussed on their individual merits.”

Democrats also proposed to take the state Department of Education recommendation of studying class size to find what will be most effective and affordable, better pay and supply funds for teachers and service personnel, increase in classroom supply funds and study student loan forgiveness for new teachers who stay in state for five years. To increase vocational/technical education, they proposed the expansion of vocational education to middle schools.

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