Citing chaos at the Capitol and the likelihood that an extended special session on education will end in an impasse, West Virginia House Democrats on Tuesday called for Gov. Jim Justice to work with House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, to bring the session to an immediate end.
“The best path forward, I believe, is to adjourn sine die (without setting a future special session), and it appears, from comments the governor has made publicly, he also agrees that’s the best path forward,” House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said after a delivering a letter to the Governor’s Office stating that, “It’s time to stop wasting the money of the West Virginia taxpayers.”
Miley had intended to hand-deliver the letter to Justice, who was not at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon.
The House of Delegates is set to resume the special session on Monday, two weeks after the Senate passed, on a partisan 18-15 vote, a new version of an omnibus education measure, Senate Bill 1039, that includes provisions establishing charter schools and imposing punitive measures intended to discourage teacher strikes in the future.
Miley said that bill ignores recommendations made by teachers, administrators and parents at a series of public meetings statewide and also defies plans by House leadership to take up education reform measures in nine separate bills — including a bill to provide the pay raises to teachers and school service personnel that Justice promised unconditionally last October.
Miley said it makes no sense for the House to spend days at taxpayer expense working bills that Senate leadership is likely to reject — particularly in light of chaotic infighting between Justice and the leadership.
At a news conference Monday, Justice reiterated concerns that the Senate’s latest version of the omnibus bill is “not going anywhere,” and dismissed Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair’s call for his resignation as the “ridiculous” talk of a bully.
That was after Blair, R-Berkeley, ran campaign ads in local newspapers calling Justice “an embarrassment to our state,” and calling for him to step down as governor.
On Tuesday, Miley said he suspects it all stems from Justice’s rebuff of the omnibus bill, noting that when he and Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, called on Justice a year ago to either do the job he was elected to do or resign, “You didn’t hear a peep from Senate Republican leadership.”
The letter to Justice states: “There is currently such dysfunction between the legislative and executive branches of West Virginia’s government that the likelihood of a protracted special session seems to be assured, and at great, unnecessary expense to the West Virginia taxpayer.”
Miley said that, with no consensus in sight, the best option would be to spend the rest of the year coming up with agreement on those education reform measures that could be passed in the 2020 regular legislative session.
“The world is not going to stop spinning if we don’t pass something this summer,” he said. “We come back every January to resume our work.”
He said the special session not only is wasting money but also is demoralizing educators in the state.
Miley was joined by other House Democrats and by American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia President Fred Albert.
That included Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, who said all legislators want to improve public education but faulted Senate leadership for trying a second time to ram through an omnibus bill. In this year’s regular session, the House killed a similar Senate bill with a vote to postpone indefinitely.
“We gave them a chance,” he said. “We gave them the benefit of the doubt.”
While the governor technically would not be involved in a House motion to adjourn sine die, Miley said it is important for the governor and House leadership to send a message that they are committed to bringing the session to an end, and on working together to come up with agreement on education reform.
The Governor’s Office did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Hanshaw, in a statement, said House leadership remains committed to passing comprehensive education reform.
“We are currently continuing the process of working with our members to receive feedback on what ideas have support to pass the House,” Hanshaw said. “When we reconvene Monday we will proceed based off of that input.”