Omnibus: Separate bills would make better legislation
“Omnibus” legislation covering scores of matters related to an overall goal is not uncommon at either the state or national levels. So the catch-all education bill moving through the West Virginia Senate is not necessarily objectionable because it contains so many different provisions.
What is a concern is that a number of specifics in the bill are controversial. Opponents say Senate Republicans seem determined to ram the bill through, warts and all, without even hearing from everyone who may have something to say about it.
This week, Senate leaders took action that lends credence to that concern. Rather than subject the bill to action by the Senate Finance Committee, top lawmakers agreed to move it directly to the floor. There, senators will handle the measure in committee-of-the-whole fashion. Presumably, that means hearing testimony, asking questions and debating provisions of the bill.
Combining proposals that could be handled as separate bills into one is an old strategy. Proponents sometimes feel that if they include items not likely to pass in a bill also containing very popular ideas, they will be more likely to prevail on the former category. In this case, pay raises for teachers and school service personnel are included in the omnibus measure.
But so are other, far more controversial items — some of which are good ideas and some of which are not.
Examples of provisions some have questioned include one giving county boards of education what appears to be more taxing authority, and another increasing the number of students acceptable in a classroom.
It appears the omnibus bill will be approved by the Senate. But what of the House of Delegates? Will concern over the measure — and pressure to kill it — increase to the point its chances in the House are questionable?
It would be a shame for worthwhile provisions of the bill to go down in flames because Senate leaders miscalculated. They may want to begin work now on a series of education bills, incorporating separate provisions of the omnibus plan, to cope with the potential of the baby being thrown out with the bath water if the big bill runs into serious trouble.