Legislative News

Overview

Inside

 
 

The Thrasher Group

February 9, 2018 - Volume 38 Issue 5

By Jim Wallace

One week after the Senate approved a pay raise bill that many teachers consider to be too meager, a slightly richer version is moving through the House of Delegates. Meanwhile, Gov. Jim Justice and legislators are pressuring the Finance Board of the Public Employees Insurance Agency to put a moratorium on health plan changes that some teachers have said would cost them more than they would get in a pay raise.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Justice said, West Virginia’s economy is recovering miraculously, but state leaders can’t be certain that recovery will continue. That’s why he wants to stick to his proposal to give teachers a 1 percent raise in the next fiscal year and in each of the next four years rather than giving them something bigger in the first year. The Senate approved that last Friday in Senate Bill 267, even while hundreds of teachers from at least three counties filled the Capitol to protest the bill as doing too little for them.

When that bill reached the House Finance Committee this week, members changed it to give teachers a 2 percent raise in the next fiscal year and 1 percent in each of the next three years. But Justice said he’s not comfortable with that approach.

“I think the prudent thing and the smart money is to fix PEIA like we’ve done, and the smart money is to stay one, one, one, one, one…. I think we’re not being smart going two, one, one, one.” – Gov. Jim Justice

“I think the prudent thing and the smart money is to fix PEIA like we’ve done, and the smart money is to stay one, one, one, one, one,” the governor said. “I think we’re not being smart going two, one, one, one.”

By fixing PEIA, he meant his call for the agency to freeze its premiums and benefits at current levels rather than implementing the changes the PEIA Finance Board voted to approve in December. For the proposed moratorium to occur, the board would have to agree to reverse itself, but Justice expressed confidence the board will do that. The board has scheduled a special meeting on February 20 to consider Justice’s request. Leading up to that, PEIA will hold three public hearings:

  • Monday, February 12 at Riggleman Auditorium, University of Charleston
  • Tuesday, February 13 at West Virginia University’s Erickson Alumni Center in Morgantown
  • Wednesday, February 14 at Tamarack Conference Center in Beckley

Each public hearing will run from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

The big change the board will consider undoing is one that would base premiums on total income from both spouses in a family. Instead, the board will consider using the average income for two spouses who are both public employees covered by PEIA. If a spouse works for a non-public employer, only the policyholder’s salary would be used to calculated premiums.

Justice also called on PEIA to make its new wellness program, Go365, voluntary only, removing the proposed premium penalty of $25 per month for those who would fail to meet the program’s requirements.

“Every single time something came up in regard to PEIA – Go365 – once I really got a hold of it, I threw it out,” Justice said Thursday. “As far as the combining of the household income, once I got it, I threw it out.”

Saying that PEIA offers “a tremendous health care plan,” the governor said he wants the agency to implement a 17-month moratorium on PEIA. He said that would cost the state about $29 million.

“Contributing $29 million back in is a big, big hit, and we’re going to have to find it,” Justice said. “It’s going to have to come from somewhere. Some other things we want to do we’re probably not going to be able to do to the magnitude that we wanted to do.”

The administration already has found $6.5 million of the $29 million needed, he said, and it must come up with another $22.5 million. However, Justice said, if the House’s 2 percent pay raise would be approved, state leaders would need to find about $50 million, which might come at the cost of programs needed to develop the state’s economy.

The House of Delegates also is pressuring PEIA to stick with its current set of premiums and benefits rather than implement its planned changes. On Wednesday, the House voted 97 to one to approve a resolution to express that preference with only Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, voting against the resolution.

“I think they’re seeing people take action, and I think that they are happy that their voices have been heard. But again, it comes down to: What’s the end result?” – Christine Campbell

Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, told reporters Wednesday that things are going in the right direction for teachers. She said, “I think they’re seeing people take action, and I think that they are happy that their voices have been heard. But again, it comes down to: What’s the end result?” She noted that the PEIA Finance Board still must take action.

Many teachers, school service personnel and other public employees plan to rally at the Capitol on February 17, Campbell said.

Justice said he would be glad to give teachers bigger pay raises next year if the state’s finances continue to make what he calls a miraculous recovery from last year, when he and legislators had to work on the budget to avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in deficits.

“What do we do if the numbers do work?” he asked. “If the numbers do work, I give you my solemn promise…that we’ll double right back and do even more once we know the numbers really do work. And I believe with all in me, they’re going to work.”

Saying he understands what teachers are going through with salaries that are among the lowest in the nation, Justice said no one wants to help them more than he does.

“You can have the best business climate,” he said. “You can have the best site location. You can have the best everything, but if you don’t have good schools for people to bring their employees to and everything, you can bark at the moon. It’s doggone tough to convince business to come without great, great, great schools and great teachers and happy places. And really that is the biggest selling point we could possibly have to drive our economy.”

However, House Speaker Tim Armstead, who also attended the governor’s news conference, said he expects the House to stick with its Finance Committee’s plan to give teachers a 2 percent raise this year, followed by 1 percent in each of the next three years.

“We’re not that far apart from each other, and we’re going to continue to show that we believe we can sustain that. All of us are saying we only want to do what we can sustain.” – Speaker Tim Armstead

“We’re not that far apart from each other, and we’re going to continue to show that we believe we can sustain that,” Armstead, R-Kanawha, said. “All of us are saying we only want to do what we can sustain.”

But also at the news conference, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the Senate prefers to be careful about spending too much money one year after facing a huge deficit.

“We need to take a fiscally conservative approach moving forward,” he said. “We’ll certainly evaluate all the proposals that the House brings forth.”

Although more teachers around the state have discussed staging walkouts, Armstead said they don’t need to do that because they already have legislators’ attention.

When the House Finance Committee amended Senate Bill 267 to give teachers 2 percent raises in the next fiscal year, it did the same for school service personnel and the State Police. The school service personnel and State Police would also receive 1 percent raises the following year.

Democrats pushed for more.

But the committee settled on that package only after rejecting a proposal by Democrats to give all three categories of employees 3 percent raises in each of the next three years. Mike McKown, director of the State Budget Office, said the original cost of the raises for teachers and school service personnel would have been about $13 million. To triple that would cost $39 million the first year, $78 million the next year and $117 million the following year, he said. The Democrats defended those expenditures.

“Yes, it’s a lot of money, but we are in a crisis. We are truly in a crisis in education. We are losing teachers. We are losing our citizenry because we’re not competitive on the salary schedule. And I can’t think of anything that more fundamental to building up our economy and keeping people in West Virginia than to have an educated workforce.” – Delegate Brent Boggs

“Yes, it’s a lot of money, but we are in a crisis. We are truly in a crisis in education,” Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said. “We are losing teachers. We are losing our citizenry because we’re not competitive on the salary schedule. And I can’t think of anything that more fundamental to building up our economy and keeping people in West Virginia than to have an educated workforce.”

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, compared the governor’s proposed 1 percent raise to giving them a Christmas ham instead of a substantial raise. “I think we got to start investing in our people,” he said.

Delegate Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley, said a 1 percent raise is embarrassing and insulting.

Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, defended the larger set of raises by saying the state needs to catch up. “We’re backfilling for years and years of not keeping teachers and school service personnel and all public employees up to any sort of responsible salary amounts,” he said. “I think that this is an opportunity for us to be bold, to be appropriate, to be responsible and to make sure that we have the kind of educational system and other government services that we need and deserve.”

But on the other side, House Finance Vice-Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, argued that 2 percent for the next fiscal year is the most the state can afford right now. “We must not lose sight that we are still in the midst of a multi-year recession, and we must make sure that there is financial stability for our state in general now,” he said.

The committee voted nine to 16 to reject the Democrats’ amendment to the bill. The committee then approved the version of the bill with 2 percent raises for the next fiscal year.

That version of Senate Bill 267 was scheduled to receive the first of three required readings on the House floor today. That means the House could be expected to pass the bill as early as Tuesday. If the Senate would refuse to agree to the House changes, the bill would go to a conference committee to work out a final version.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee approved one bill this week, but the committee spent most of its time on a bill that stalled, and might have died, after a long debate over the separation of church and state. Meanwhile, two other Senate bills are directed at teachers’ unions.

Senate Bill 252, as originally written, would have required all West Virginia high schools – public, private and religious – to provide an elective course on Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible or New Testament of the Bible. After a long debate over the bill last week, it returned to the committee this week with two major changes. One change was that it no longer would apply to private and parochial schools, just public schools. The other change was that, instead of requiring schools to offer such courses, it would simply allow them to offer such courses.

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, suggested the bill only would duplicate current law. “I’m not sure what the intent of the bill is if they can already do this,” he said. But committee counsel Hank Hager said the bill would add guidelines for such electives that are not already in place.

“Whose Bible is the New Testament? Are they going to teach my Bible? I’m Roman Catholic.” – Sen. Mike Romano

However, the long debate ensued when Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, asked, “Whose Bible is the New Testament?” He added, “Are they going to teach my Bible? I’m Roman Catholic.” The Catholic Bible has 73 books while the Protestant Bible has 66 books.

The lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, responded, “By definition, the Christian religion goes by the Bible, so you have the Old Testament with 39 books and the New Testament with 27 books. That’s the Bible that has been used historically, which is the point.” He said that Protestant Bible has been the nation’s foundational text since the Jamestown settlement in 1607 and Plymouth colony in 1620.

“That’s just because those were the ones that got here first,” Romano said.

“But that is the one that has been used without interruption for 350 years,” Azinger said.

“Do you know anywhere in our Constitution where it says the New Testament is the Bible that is supposed to be used for America?” Romano asked.

“To not study the Bible is to deprive our American children of an education.” – Sen. Mike Azinger

“As you know, the Constitution doesn’t mention the Bible specifically, except to say ‘the year of our Lord.’ We’re talking about the book that had more influence on America by far than any other book up until the 1960s,” Azinger replied. “So to not study the Bible is to deprive our American children of an education.” He added that similar bills have passed in 11 states.

Persisting, Romano said, “Regardless, I still want to ask you – and this is all I want to know, Senator – what are you going to do about my Bible. I’m a Christian. I have 73 books in my Bible.”

“The Christian Bible is contained in the Catholic Bible,” Azinger responded. “There’s just extra books.”

“We don’t consider them just extra books,” Romano said. “It’s not like they’re just up on the shelf.” He added, “I’m not against this. I’m as Christian as you are.”

“I would not argue that,” Azinger replied.

“What I’m concerned about is it’s limited,” Romano said. “It’s limited to a specific Bible, and it’s limited in here to a specific religion. Not that I don’t believe Christianity is the truth and I don’t believe in Jesus Christ, but is that what we should be teaching or should we teach about all religions, about the acceptance of all religions. In other words, should we have in here, instead of teaching just your Bible and not my Bible, should we just have something in here to say we ought to teach about world religions?”

“I think we need to focus here, Senator,” Azinger said. “We’re focusing on the book that created not just America. Not just America was founded on it. The first 13 colonies adopted their code from English common law and from the Pentateuch – first five books – and from the Decalogue, the Old Testament. Western civilization from the Reformation on was built on the Bible. America was built on biblical principles.”

Senator cites early treaty.

At that point, Romano referred to the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, also called the Treaty of Tripoli, between the United States and Tripoli [now Libya] that was signed November 4, 1796, and ratified by the Senate on June 10, 1797. That was the time when the nation’s founding fathers still were running the country. In fact, George Washington was still president when the treaty was signed. This is the section that Romano read:

As the government of the United States of America is not founded in any sense on the Christian religion, as it has itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims], and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption in the harmony existing between the two countries.

“Our founding fathers understood the danger of favoring one religion – whether it be one form of Christianity over another or Christianity versus any other religion. Western civilization is based on democracy.” – Sen. Mike Romano

Romano said, “Our founding fathers understood the danger of favoring one religion – whether it be one form of Christianity over another or Christianity versus any other religion. Western civilization is based on democracy.”

“It’s based on republican principles,” Azinger said. “We’re not a democracy.”

“It’s a democracy, Senator,” Romano said.

Azinger said, “The first Congress printed Bibles during the Revolutionary War because there was a dearth of them. The first Congress printed Bibles to [give to] the Algonquin Indians because they wanted to get the Bible to the Indians. Jefferson started a church in the U.S. Capitol that had two-thousand people in it.”

“They didn’t force anybody, Senator,” Romano said. “That’s the difference.”

“Nobody’s forcing anybody,” Azinger said. “This is elective. It’s an elective, and the counties can choose. They may or may not choose to.”

“There’s only one Bible that can be used in this class,” Romano said. “Is that correct?”

Azinger, replied, “The Bible that’s used in this class is the Bible that has been used since 1607, when 150 men met and prayed at Cape Henry in Jamestown – the same Bible.”

At that point, Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, took up the debate against Romano. “There wasn’t perfect agreement at the founding of the United States, but I think it goes without question that the Christian religion was essentially the dominant religion at the time.” He then read a passage from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, in which Congress said: “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

“I don’t think that the senator from Wood’s purpose in this bill is to promote a particular denomination or even necessarily a particular religion. It’s more an acknowledgement that as we’ve moved further away from religion and the moral precepts that religion brings forth that we see a difference in our society, and it’s not been a good difference.” – Sen. Robert Karnes

Karnes said, “They say the reason for having schools is religion, morality and knowledge.” He added, “They clearly thought it was important that religion be part of the discussion and part of the education in the Northwest Territories, as it was at that time.”

“Does it say the Protestant religion?” Romano asked.

“They weren’t pointing out a particular one,” Karnes answered.

“Does it say Catholic religion?” Romano asked.

“Obviously, it doesn’t say any,” Karnes said.

“Does it say Muslim religion?” Romano asked. “It doesn’t say any religion, does it?”

“No,” Karnes replied. “Nothing.”

Romano said, “Given that the first immigrants to this country were of one particular form of Christianity – and what were they running from? They were running from persecution from other Christians. And that’s why they ran to this country.” He added, “I agree with you on religion and morality. There is nothing more important in my family and my life than my religion. But if they knew the answer – if they knew, as you’re trying to say and the senator from Wood is trying to say, that it was one specific religion, why didn’t they put it in there? They were smart enough.”

“I think the reason they didn’t put it in there is because they didn’t want a particular denomination to be selected,” Karnes said. “And that was the real purpose because, as you probably are well aware, many states did have official religions when the Constitution was adopted.”

Karnes continued, “I don’t think that the senator from Wood’s purpose in this bill is to promote a particular denomination or even necessarily a particular religion. It’s more an acknowledgement that as we’ve moved further away from religion and the moral precepts that religion brings forth that we see a difference in our society, and it’s not been a good difference.”

In response, Romano said, if that were the case, then the committee should change the bill just to permit teaching about religions. “Shouldn’t we teach morality and good works from all religions and also demonstrate at the same time all religions have those good works?” he asked.

Then Romano added, “I can’t believe we’re arguing about this.”

Karnes suggested that the only reason the treaty with Tripoli said that the United States was not founded on Christianity is that the nation’s leaders at that time wanted to be nice to the Muslim nations of the Barbary Coast.

Romano and Karnes then spent a few minutes debating whether religion or socialism has been responsible for more human slaughter around the world with Romano saying religion and Karnes saying socialism. “My God and Jesus doesn’t want us to kill anybody in the name of religion,” Romano concluded.

When Karnes asked if Romano would object to having schools teach the works of Karl Marx knowing how many people died as a result of what he wrote, Romano said it’s better to know what ideas groups like the Nazis and the Communists promoted.

“Those who fail to know history are doomed to repeat it.” – Sen. Mike Romano

“Those who fail to know history are doomed to repeat it,” he said. “Just like, when you talk about authoritarianism and fascism, most people don’t know what fascism is, even though we’re living it right now, because they fail to know history. I have no problem teaching Christianity if we teach all forms of Christianity. And I have no problem teaching all forms of Christianity if we include all religions – because, like you said, knowledge is power.”

“Well, we have a lot of this other stuff we just discussed already in the school system,” Karnes said. “The senator from Wood’s purpose in this bill, I believe, is to simply say that this is something else that we should study. And I believe the purpose here is to make the historical perspective, not to indoctrinate and not to evangelize.”

“I’m sure that’s the purpose,” Romano said. “It always is starting out.”

Bill’s sponsor opposed amending it.

When Romano proposed an amendment to change the bill to be about teaching world religions, Azinger objected, saying the bill would mean little then.

“The number of people that have been killed from religion has been people that battled in defiance of the commandments of Jesus Christ,” Azinger said. “Jesus Christ came and laid down his life so that mankind might be saved through faith in him. Anyone who’s killing someone else is going contrary, diametrically opposed, to that example. So you want to bring in all these other religions. Religions, by definition, contradict themselves – contradict each other, not themselves. And the purpose of this bill is to teach the book that has influenced Western culture, and more importantly, more specifically, America more than any other book. There is no comparison.”

“He proves my point that, according to him, there is only one Bible,” Romano said. “According to him, there is only one religion in this world. Maybe he’s right. I believe that. I believe there’s only one religion… But there is more than one Bible.”

Continuing, he said, “We should celebrate the differences, not try to bury them under a belief that there’s only one religion.” Early settlers came from England because their form of Christianity was being persecuted, he said. “And here we are,” Romano said. “We have teacher pay on the line. We have PEIA on the line. We’ve got so many issues facing this state, and here we are, an hour into this…and we’re arguing about whether we should favor one religion by having it only taught.”

Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, spoke against Romano’s amendment. She said it wasn’t necessary. But Romano said it was necessary to prevent the bill from being about state action to create favoritism to one religion. However, the committee defeated the amendment on a voice vote.

Others express qualms about the bill.

Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, then indicated some discomfort with the bill. “This would open up debate for if another religion or anything like that wanted to put a bill in and try to get something else,” he said.

Asked what the effect of the bill would be, Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, said, “It does not change the schools’ current ability to offer an elective on the Bible or any other religious text.”

“We talk about what’s important to our state – job creation, education of our people – and yet, we’re talking about God, guns, gays and abortion. I just hate to see this type of thing that takes up so much time away from very important issues that need to be addressed.” – Sen. Ron Stollings

By then, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, was upset. “We spent over an entire meeting in Education [Committee] on a bill that basically doesn’t do anything,” he said. “It’s already in place that you can have this elective, if you want…. Of all the education issues that we have in front of us, all the economic issues, that we’ve just gone through with this for basically what I think is not doing a thing…. We talk about what’s important to our state – job creation, education of our people – and yet, we’re talking about God, guns, gays and abortion. I just hate to see this type of thing that takes up so much time away from very important issues that need to be addressed.”

Stollings said the senators should talk about what they could do with the education system to grow and diversify West Virginia’s economy. “I think this bill is worthless frankly,” he concluded.

Romano agreed and said the bill’s proponents “are really blinded by their own religious zealousness.” He said the United States is strong because it favors no religion.

Before the debate could go further, Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, cut it off by making a motion to adjourn, which was approved.

That was on Tuesday, when the Senate Education Committee next met on Thursday, Senate Bill 252 was not on the agenda.

Three bills with other education implications are considered.

Instead the meeting on Thursday was devoted to considering Senate Bill 319 which would make individuals who completed home school eligible for the PROMISE scholarship without having to obtain a diploma equivalent such as a general equivalency degree (GED) or TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion).

The committee engaged Matt Turner of the Higher Education Policy Commission in a long discussion about the implications of the bill. His position was that higher education officials didn’t want to fight the bill. If it would become law, he said, they would keep an eye on it to make sure it didn’t create a problem.

The committee approved Senate Bill 319 and sent it to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

Two other bills in the Senate seem designed to make life more difficult for teachers’ unions. They are Senate Bill 335, which was scheduled for third reading and possible passage in the Senate today, and Senate Bill 494, which is awaiting action in the Senate Pensions Committee.

Senate Bill 335 is directed at curbing union activities by the unions. One provision of the bill states: “It shall be an unfair labor practice for any labor organization to use agency shop fees paid by an individual who is not a member of the organization to make any contributions or expenditures to influence an election or to operate a political committee, unless affirmatively authorized by the individual. Any such authorization is valid for no more than 12 months from the date it is made by the individual. For purposes of this section, “agency shop fees” shall mean any dues, fees, assessments, or other similar charges, however denominated, of any kind or amount to the labor organization: Provided, That the provisions of this subsection shall not otherwise apply to or abrogate a written or oral contract or agreement or any provisions thereof in effect on or before June 30, 2018.”

The second sentence in that provision means that union members would have to re-authorize annually for school boards to withhold union dues from their paychecks. Those authorizations no longer would be automatically renewed.

Senate Bill 494 would provide that a member of the Teachers Retirement System would be considered absent from service as a teacher or non-teacher while serving as an officer in one of the unions. That means that the presidents of the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia would not continue to get retirement credit for the years they serve in their union jobs. The Senate Pensions Committee had the bill on its agenda Wednesday but has not yet acted on the bill.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee approved four bills this week, and two of them are on track for approval by the full House of Delegates early next week. The bills are designed to prevent sexual abuse of students, make it easier for persons to become teachers after going through alternative certification programs, give districts more leeway in hiring attendance directors, and help place school zone signs in certain locations where they currently are not allowed.

House Bill 4402 would prevent sexual abuse by educating students in kindergarten through 12th grade and providing training to public school employees. This bill is a result of another bill, House Bill 2527, which the legislature passed in 2015, to create a task force on the prevention of sexual abuse of children. That task force was charged with making recommendations on policies and practices to prevent sexual abuse of children, and the recommendation for changes in law are reflected in House Bill 4402.

If the bill would become law, beginning July 1, 2019, children in grades kindergarten through 12 would receive age-appropriate safety information at least once per school year with a preference for providing it four times per academic year. The state school board would have to promulgate rules by July 1, 2018, to address at least the following:

  • Developmentally appropriate education and resources;
  • Social media usage and content;
  • Implementation of best practices;
  • Strategies for dealing with disclosures;
  • Family involvement in the process;
  • Differing county and school sizes;
  • Offender dynamics;
  • Child-on-child scenarios;
  • Development of supplementary materials, including posting of the child abuse hotline; and
  • Protocols for local crisis response.

The state board would have to promulgate rules by December 31, 2018, for training of public school employees.

“I think this is a great bill,” Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said before the committee voted on the bill. At first, he said, he was concerned about passing down more work for teachers, but he reconciled himself to that idea.

“Child abuse is a problem, and we got to address it… I hope this turns it around.” – Delegate Joe Statler

“We didn’t pass down the problem,” Statler said. “We’re passing down what can be saved. They already have the problem. It’s just recognizing it.” He added, “Child abuse is a problem, and we got to address it… I hope this turns it around.”

With the Education Committee’s approval, House Bill 4402 now goes to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Another bill the House Education Committee approved is House Bill 4407, which would remove one of the requirements for eligibility for an alternative program teacher certificate. It would remove the requirement that the person must have an academic major or occupational area the same as or similar to subject matter he or she is being hired to teach.

The bill follows up on efforts in the Kanawha County school system to get more people certified to be teachers. Ron Pauley, certification specialist for the Kanawha County schools, said the district has two different programs approved by the Department of Education. One is a traditional alternative certification program, which requires relevant work experience or relevant degree. The other is a special education alternative certification program, which permits holding any degree.

When Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, asked who determines if occupational experience or a degree is relevant, Michele Blatt, assistant superintendent in the Education Department’s Division of Support and Accountability, responded that the department reviews college transcripts and work experience. She said a 75 percent match is necessary.

However, she added, “It is a very cumbersome and specific process.” Blatt said it would be simpler to have a candidate pass a test on the content to be taught.

Vacancies in teaching positions are more common than they were in the past, she said. The department’s vacancy report from October 1 showed three counties that could not find social studies teachers, she said. As of October 1, Blatt said, there were 62 teaching positions that were completely vacant, another 110 positions filled by retired teachers serving as substitutes and more than 400 filled by teachers who are certified but serving as substitutes. A total of 727 positions were without fully certified, fulltime teachers, she said.

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said he saw firsthand the need for the bill when he visited his county school board office the day before the legislative session started. “A young man had applied for a job on the alternative certification pathway, and he had passed everything and thought he was going to work,” he said. “And of course, as we just heard, the state had to say, ‘No, you can’t,’ because his degree was in philosophy, and he had by some haphazard fashion passed the praxis for teaching science at the high school level, and so he was not able to get a job. So I’m just tickled to death to see this here.”

The committee made one change in the bill before approving it. At the urging of Delegate Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, the committee amended it to allow certification in English Sign Language in addition to American Sign Language as one of the bill’s provision. She explained that they are different languages, and she didn’t want any deaf child to be deprived of an education.

With the committee’s approval, House Bill 4407 has gone to the full House of Delegates. It was scheduled today for the first of three readings on the House floor, so the House could pass the bill as early as Tuesday.

The House Education Committee also approved Senate Bill 62, which would allow school districts to hire persons with professional administrative certificates as attendance directors. Committee counsel Dave Mohr said the intent is to give more flexibility to smaller counties.

That bill also has gone to the full House of Delegates, where it was scheduled for the first of three readings in the House today, so the House could pass the bill as early as Tuesday. If it gets through the House, it would go back to the Senate, where senators would have to decide whether to accept changes the House made in the bill.

The fourth bill approved this week by the House Education Committee is House Bill 4042, which would redefine school zone to facilitate placement of school zone signs.

“School zones are currently all the school property and any street or highway abutting school property up to 125 feet on either end,” Mohr explained to the committee. “However, there are some schools who do not own the property right up abutting the street or highway but have a right-of-way access to it.”

“This bill takes care of peculiar instances not covered at all right now.” – Dave Mohr

The bill would include property along a school’s right-of-way and within 125 feet of it. At least a couple of schools along busy highways would benefit from that, Mohr said. Also, county school boards would be able to vote to extend the zones to more than 125 feet and ask the Division of Highways to put up the appropriate signage, he said.

“This bill takes care of peculiar instances not covered at all right now,” Mohr said. For example, he said, Fairplain Elementary in Jackson County sits on Route 21 and has no signage right now. The Division of Highways is willing to put signage there, but the law is preventing that, he said.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, said the school board wanted to put a sign up for Fairplain Elementary, but the Division of Highways said the law would not permit it. “We have a pipeline going through this area, and there’s going to be more truck traffic next year,” he said, so parents were concerned about a safety hazard there.

The bill appealed to Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, who said, “This applies to the school I’m at right now and also to the school I’m at next year. We have a creek between our school property and the road, and we have the same issue. They won’t put the signs up, but this will allow us to.”

With the Education Committee’s approval, House Bill 4042 has gone to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

__________

Measure would amend current law regarding carrying firearms at school-sponsored events

Editor’s Note: Senate Bill 244 will be reviewed in a future issue of The Legislature. The measure amends existing law in regard to unlawful possession of firearm at school-sponsored activities. The measure, which was approved earlier in the week by Senate Education and adopted by the Senate, has been referred to House Education then House Judiciary. Officials with various organizations are expressing concern the measure could compromise safety in that its provisions would apply to school-sponsored events.

The bill draws no distinction between events occurring on premises owned, leased or rented by the school, county board, state Department of Education or the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission. Moreover the measure would cover events occurring at places which are not owned, leased or rented by the school, county board, WVDE or SSAC.

Thus, Senate Bill 244 would not prohibit people from possessing firearms and other deadly weapons at a school-sponsored function held in a specific area that is not owned, leased or rented for the occasion the school, county board, WVDE or SSAC.

The West Virginia Legislature’s link to the legislation is http://wvlegislature.gov/Bill_Status/bills_text.cfm?billdoc=SB244%20SUB1%20ENG.htm&yr=2018&sesstype=RS&i=244

The measure was adopted by the Senate on a 30-0 vote (with four Senators absent.)

_______

Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail, former news director of West Virginia Public Radio and former news director of WWVA/WOVK radio in Wheeling. He now works for TSG Consulting, a public relations and governmental affairs company with offices in Charleston and Beckley. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. Wallace is the author of the 2012 book,A History of the West Virginia Capitol: The House of State.