The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

March 11, 2013

Education package captures headlines from Legislature

CHARLESTON — The cornerstone of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s 2013 legislative agenda — a massive package of nearly 180 pages that spells out his plans to overhaul the state’s elementary and secondary education system — captured the headlines here during the second full-week of the 60-day regular session of the West Virginia Legislature.

The State Senate will be considering the issue first and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, promised the Senate will consider and pass its ultimate version of the bill and send it to the House of Delegates within a month.

“I’d be surprised if we weren’t. . .able to get a bill out of here ... before 30 days have elapsed,” he told a newspaper reporter last Monday after the bill was introduced.

The Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, will have the first consideration of SB359 (the identical measure filed in the House is HB2725). Sen. Plymale had the bill on his committee’s agenda the following day and hopes to send it on to the Senate Finance Committee this week for final work before it comes to the Senate floor for a vote by all 34 members.

But the leaders of the two large teacher unions in the state made it clear last week they are not happy with the bill.

“This is probably the ugliest bill I’ve seen in 30 years,” said Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia Federation of Teachers.

And Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said after he reviewed the governor’s bill that “we have the opportunity to make some changes to improve education and to increase student achievement. Instead, it appears we’re looking at more punitive actions aimed at teachers.”

But the governor’s public policy director, Hallie Mason, countered those arguments by saying the bill will “remove obstacles that stifle flexibility” and hinder student achievement.

Some of the key features of the governor’s proposed bill would:

— Allow public schools to expand pre-school programs and offer full-day instruction by the 2016-17 school year.

— Give county boards of education more flexibility with their calendars to make sure schools offer the required 180 days of instruction.

— Expand a teacher scholarship program that forgives loans for teachers who take jobs in subject areas or parts of the state with so-called “critical needs.”

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, who is vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, predicted the differences between the Senate bill and the one approved in the House of Delegates will force a House-Senate conference committee to work out a compromise version during the final days of the session next month.

Other issues that surfaced during the second full week of the 2013 legislative session here included:

— Gov. Tomblin introduced a bill last Wednesday that would require online retailers like Amazon to collect the state’s six percent sales tax on purchases made by West Virginia residents. It would apply to any out-of-state retailer that maintains a warehouse, office or other facility in this state. Amazon recently opened a 70,000-square-foot customer service center in Huntington.

— Introduction of a bill by Del. George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, that would make it a crime to photograph a corpse except for “legitimate purposes.” Greenbrier County Prosecutor George Via requested the bill as the result of an incident nearly a year ago when a driver for a local funeral home and his wife took pictures of a deceased man while transporting the body from a hospital to the mortuary.

— West Virginia Lottery Director John Musgrave said legislators should consider legalizing online gambling in the wake of passage of a law in New Jersey that allows casinos in the state to run websites that take bets for games like poker and blackjack. He told members of the Lottery Commission last Wednesday that this move is “the way of the future and we need to discuss it.”

 

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