Reporter’s Notebook: Week Five at the Capitol

Last Thursday marked the halfway point of the 60-day legislative session, and this week is when things start to speed up.

For example, Tuesday is the last day to introduce bills in the House of Delegates. Less than a week later, Feb. 18, is the last day for Senate bills to be introduced. The week after that, Feb. 27, is the last day for a bill to pass either the House or Senate and cross over to the other chamber.

I bring all of that up because we still have plenty of time for legislators to perfect Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill. It crossed over to the House last Tuesday after the Senate passed it the day before, three weeks before crossover day.

We were told by multiple House Republican leaders that we’d see a more deliberative process than what occurred in the Senate. I’m unsure we’ve really seen that. By Wednesday, the House Education Committee was reviewing the bill. Thursday the committee met until 10 p.m. On Friday, the committee had at one point 40 amendments to the bill and had planned to meet until midnight and into Saturday.

Between Wednesday and Friday, the committee watered down the bill with changes to its strike-and-insert amendment (basically the committee’s re-write of the bill, which won’t officially replace SB 451 until the bill is on second reading on the House floor). Unions say they still don’t like it even though education savings accounts are gone, anti-strike provisions are gone and the charter school provision has been so reduced that I wouldn’t ever expect any elementary school to apply for the two slots.

Unions still don’t like the watered-down charter pilot. They still don’t like the increased pay for math teachers or the county freedom to raise salaries for teachers in needed subjects or simply to entice a teacher to come to a rural county.

The bill is now in the hands of the House Finance Committee. I hope it is more deliberative than the Education Committee was.

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I’m somewhat skeptical as to whether the Senate will ever agree to the changes the House has made thus far to the education bill. I figure it will go to a conference committee and die on day 60 of the session. But there is still a teacher and school service personnel pay raise within SB 451.

The governor’s original bills for pay raises for school employees (as well as the West Virginia State Police) are still sitting in House and Senate committees. I’ve not seen a pay raise bill for public employees in general. Also, bills to add $105 million of surplus dollars for a rainy day fund within the Public Employees Insurance Agency are not moving.

As I said above, there is still time, but time is ticking.

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David Kelly, the new Republican delegate from Tyler County, needs a nickname. I have chosen “The Peacemaker.”

Twice now, I’ve witnessed him take an issue causing a partisan rift on the House floor and try to either cool the temperature or find a compromise.

In the most recent example, House Republicans and Democrats started arguing Friday about the time of a public hearing on SB 451. The House Finance Committee had scheduled it for 8 a.m. today. The House minority wanted to move it to 5:30 p.m. to give teachers an opportunity attend after school. Both sides went back and forth.

Kelly, rising from his seat, proposed a novel idea: have two public hearings, one at 8 a.m. and one at 5:30 p.m. A simple solution, and both sides agreed.

Full disclosure, but I’ve known Kelly most of my life. He is a former sheriff of Pleasants County, a pastor and a member of the gospel quartet The Carriers along with my father. I went to school his son and daughter (the daughter ended up being my boss at the Tyler Star News a decade ago).

The legislature could use more peacemakers like Kelly.

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Finally, I don’t want to spend much time on the controversial remarks by Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, regarding those in the LGBTQ community. He apparently is very much not sorry and appears to be relishing the attention his inappropriate remarks received.

State leaders constantly say they want to create an economic environment that attracts young adults to the state. But that’s not going to happen as long as they don’t have access to jobs, housing and as long as we keep broadcasting to the rest of the nation that “you’re not welcome here.”

These issues are all connected. We could provide access to plenty of jobs, but if you can be fired or not hired based on a legal lifestyle or biology, why move here and put yourself through that? And if you can be denied housing for the same reasons, you’re going to go looking for some other state to live in.

If you’re truly a “love the sinner, hate the sin” type, then how can you justify denying housing or a job to someone based on sexual orientation?

The only criteria that should matter in housing or employment is what’s on the application or the resume. That, Delegate Porterfield, is not a “socialist” ideology.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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