FAIRMONT — On Tuesday, Democratic members of the West Virginia House of Delegates hand delivered a letter to Gov. Jim Justice urging him to call off the special legislative session on education.
Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, was part of the group that delivered the letter to Justice. He said the Democrats hope to get the governor to work together with House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, to cancel the session, and handle the education issues in the regular session in January.
“It’s very obvious that Senate president Mitch Carmichael and the Governor are at odds,” Caputo said. “We can’t help but think that Mitch Carmichael has ran this type of legislature against the wishes of about 88 percent of West Virginians when it comes to charter schools, because he wants revenge against teachers and service personnel for walking out and conducting a strike.”
Caputo said the minority members who sent the letter hope to get the session canceled because of the cost to taxpayers a special session presents. He also said he believes the legislature will get nothing done, because the omnibus education bill was already defeated in regular session, and a new bill is just even worse in his eyes.
“There was no strings attached to that promise but when we get here, all of a sudden it becomes this big omnibus bill,” Caputo said. “It alludes to all kinds of things including union busting language.
“The governor said he doesn’t like that bill, he opposes that bill, he said he will veto any bill that doesn’t have bipartisan support,” he continued. “I just don’t think we can get anything productive done and it is our goal to ask that the session be ended.”
Del. Michael Angelucci, D-Marion, agreed and said the whole session will likely be futile because the omnibus bill is nearly the same as the one which was defeated in the regular session in January.
“I’m hopeful that the governor will do the right thing to help save the state money,” Angelucci said. “From what we have seen from the omnibus bill that was passed by the Senate, we defeated that the first time during regular session, so we’re seeing a repeat bill. We’re not going to repeat that in the House.”
When it was first presented in Special Session, the new Student Success Act included every controversial feature that the previously-killed omnibus education bill did during regular session with the exception of education savings accounts (ESAs). The Senate has, however, passed ESAs in a separate bill.
Angelucci said the pay raise promised to educators after last year’s session has nearly been forced out of the conversation, because some of the provisions of the bill are so negative to them that they need to reject the bill, and therefore, the raise.
“What we have heard from educators across the state is that they’re willing to forego a pay raise to protect public education,” Angelucci said. “That’s why we’ve asked the governor to work with Speaker Hanshaw to cancel this special session.”
For the delegates, the situation is frustrating because it doesn’t seem to be changing in any way, and the concept of an unproductive session will simply waste taxpayer money. Caputo said he hopes the message of the letter sent by the delegates gets through to the leadership, ending the session now before it goes any further.
“The governor is the most powerful figure in the state of West Virginia,” Caputo said. “And he needs to use the power of his office along with the power of Speaker Hanshaw’s office and just adjourn the legislature and go home. Save the taxpayer money.
“If things make sense down here, we usually don’t do them.”
House Democrats received support to end the session from the West Virginia Democratic Party after delegates held a press conference Tuesday afternoon. During the press conference, House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, pointed out how the special session is costing the taxpayers “in excess of $150,000 for what might be a failed session.”
“House Democrats are looking out for West Virginia taxpayers while Justice and Carmichael are looking out for themselves," said Belinda Biafore, chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. "Justice said it himself, these special sessions are wasteful. Republicans are using them as payback to push their damaging agenda against our students and teachers.”
“It’s pure chaos," Biafore continued. "The only result is wasteful spending on the backs of West Virginians. We echo Minority Leader Delegate Miley and fellow House Democrats by saying Justice and leadership needs to cancel the chaotic special session and come to Charleston in January when real work can be done.”
Miley's letter read, "The teachers in this state have already spoken — they are willing to forego any pay raise that you, President Carmichael, and Speaker Hanshaw previously promised to them in order to avoid vindictive legislation with which they disagree."
Email Eddie Trizzino at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @eddietimeswv.