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Teacher-raises bill changes once again

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- House Finance Committee members Wednesday scaled back a budget-busting three-year, $6,000 pay raise for public school teachers, but with a proposal larger than the $837 pay increase originally advanced in the state Senate.As amended Wednesday, teachers would receive $1,000 pay raises, while school service personnel would receive 2 percent increases.That will cost about $39 million a year, about $5 million more than what the Senate proposed, but well below the more than $260 million price tag for a three-year, $6,000 raise for teachers, and three-year, $3,000 raise for service personnel, as amended Monday by the House Education Committee.Delegates stressed Wednesday that the $1,000 raise, by no means, makes West Virginia's teacher salaries competitive but is all the Legislature can do under existing budget constraints."It's a tough equation to solve, but it's one we need to solve," said Delegate Kevin Craig, D-Cabell, who added, "Recruiting the next generation of teachers is crucial."As drafted, the bill still sets a goal of a minimum starting salary for new teachers of $43,000 by 2019. Some delegates questioned if that is realistic."That appears to be a goal that is unattainable, based on the budget figures presented here," said Delegate Marty Gearhart, R-Mercer, who noted that it would require annual raises of $2,500 to reach that level.Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, agreed. "What we have before us is a modest teacher pay raise that costs us $39 million, and we have to dip into the Rainy Day Fund to pay for it," he said.The bill now goes to the House floor.Also Wednesday in the House of Delegates:• Judiciary Committee members advanced a bill that would sharply limit the ability of municipalities to restrict firearms within city limits (SB317).
Committee members soundly rejected an amendment by Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, to remove provisions in the bill that would allow persons with concealed-carry permits to bring firearms into municipal parks, swimming pools and recreational facilities.Skinner said that would make the proposed law consistent, since it would allow municipalities to ban firearms in county courthouses, city halls and in municipal buildings, such as convention centers and auditoriums.He also said municipalities in his district want the ability to set their own firearm ordinances, and not have them imposed from Charleston.
However, several delegates argued against that, including Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, who said, "To allow cities to restrict what we do as a state body is just an injustice."The bill now goes to the House floor.• The Judiciary Committee advanced a resolution for a constitutional amendment on the proposed Future Fund (SJR14), which, if approved by voters, would put limits on how future legislatures could spend earnings from the fund.To be funded from oil and natural gas severance-tax collections in excess of $175 million each year, the resolution would limit future legislatures to making appropriations from the fund only for economic development, education and workforce development, infrastructure and tax relief.Originally, the amendment allowed future legislatures to appropriate only interest earnings from the fund, but Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, amended the resolution to allow the Legislature to dip into the principal of the fund, requiring a two-thirds passage vote in both houses to permit such appropriations.The companion bill creating the Future Fund (SB461) also advanced to the House floor Wednesday from the House Finance Committee.
• The House Rules Committee moved to the House's inactive calendar legislation to exempt county conservation district supervisors from the state Ethics Act prohibition against public officials having private interests in public contracts, effectively killing the proposal (SB365).In a rare move, the Ethics Commission in February authorized its executive director, Joan Parker, to actively oppose the bill in the Legislature.Reach Phil Kabler at or 304-348-1220.
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