It was just before midnight Monday when House Democrats learned they couldn’t amend an amendment to an amendment.
It was just after midnight when enough Republicans joined Democrats to narrowly defeat a revived version of an omnibus bill that contained provisions enabling education savings accounts and up to six charter schools in the state.
It was early Tuesday morning when Republicans on the House Finance Committee receded from their position and voted with Democrats to send a watered-down version of the bill to the House floor that nixes ESAs and lowers the cap on charter schools to two.
However, House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, said the fight for ESAs and more charter schools will play out on the floor when the amendment stage arrives.
“We wanted to make sure that we would have a bill to the floor,” he said. “We needed a vehicle to get this bill to the floor.”
Thus, a massive education overhaul that has stretched into the annals of parliamentary procedure — at one point being put under consideration through an obscure committee not seen since Richard Nixon was president — continues its zig-zagging trek through the Legislature.
Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said he was baffled at the concept that presented itself Monday evening of a committee unable to amend a bill before its members.
The bill was the House Finance Committee’s strike-and-insert amendment of the House Education Committee’s strike-and-insert amendment of the bill the Senate passed.
“I’ve been a member 13 years and I was an attorney for four years — I’ve never seen it presented procedurally in a way that prevented the committee from being able to amend the version that the committee staff worked up,” he said. “That has never happened, it should never happen, and how in the world can we be confronted with that?
“It’s a bad bill, and leadership wants a bad bill that’s not supported by its own membership. That’s the problem.”
Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, voted for the failed House Finance version late Monday, as well as sending the House Education version to the floor.
He said he would like to see the bill amended with ESAs back in to add “more school choice.”
Delegate Diana Graves, R-Putnam, said there’s a lot she doesn’t like about the bill. She said she doesn’t trust the oversight on the ESAs and she’s iffy about allowing counties to raise levy rates. She said she does like the teacher pay raise and teacher tax credit.
She voted in support of both iterations of the bill, though she said she’d rather not be taking it up, and that she only voted to send it to the floor so it could be amended.
“I don’t want to do this this year at all,” she said. “I don’t want to do this bill at all … I’m torn about doing this bill at all so soon after the teacher strike. I don’t like that people feel like it’s retaliatory. I don’t believe that it is, but I don’t like that our West Virginia people, the teachers, think it is. That bothers me.”
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said it’s a shame the committee didn’t get to amend the House Education version of the bill, which he was more warm, but still opposed to than the House Finance version. “Last night was a debacle,” he said.
Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, voted against the House Finance version of the bill but in support of the House Education version. He said his vote was not in the context of policy necessarily, but a question of parliament and timing.
He said there needed to be an ability to consider amendments after the Legislature fielded four hours’ worth of public comments on the bill Monday.
However, he declined to say how he’d respond to potential floor amendments.
“I’ll deal with amendments when they’re offered,” he said.
The bill now heads to the House floor, where it could be up for amendment and passage votes this week. Assuming the House passes a different version of the bill than the Senate did, the two chambers would need to hash out their differences in a conference committee. That mediated product needs the approval of both full chambers.
The bill would then go to the governor, who has said he would veto an earlier version of the legislation. The Legislature can override his veto, time permitting, with simple majorities in both chambers.