Getting Final Version Ready

Pushing bills through the West Virginia Legislature hastily can be a mistake. But one, approved by the state Senate on Monday, should be expedited in the House of Delegates.

It is SB 451, the “omnibus education bill.” It contains all the ingredients to be a serious challenge for delegates: It is important, it is complex — and it is very controversial.

SB 451 was designed by Republican leaders in the Senate as a major step forward for public education.

One of the most important sections of the bill deals with new pay raises for school personnel and other state employees. Providing them with be an historic move toward making teachers’ salaries competitive against those offered in other states. If enacted, it would provide a 5 percent pay raise on top of a like amount given last year.

The second big idea in SB 451 involves clearing the way for private charter schools to be established, with some support from taxpayers. Democrats in the Legislature, along with public school unions, criticize that step vehemently.

But, at least for now, voicing opposition in the Senate will do no good. SB 451 was approved by that body in an 18-16 vote.

Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, is sensitive to the confrontation over SB 451. Leaders of the three big unions representing school employees have said a “job action” — a strike — is under consideration as a means of pressuring legislators over the bill.

Give the speaker credit: In a statement released after the Senate vote, he refrained from telegraphing how Republican leaders in the House stand on the bill. He did emphasize that, “We are not satisfied with the status quo” in West Virginia schools.

And Hanshaw added that delegates “will begin consideration of these proposals in a manner that respects all who might be affected …” He also asked that Mountain State residents “be patient and respect the process as we move forward …”

Good. Giving all sides a hearing is vital.

Still, only about a month remains in the legislative session. The sooner West Virginians know what will be contained in the House version of the bill, the better. That means those with amendments in mind should propose them quickly — and votes should be scheduled expeditiously. A bill in which critical changes are made in the last few days of the session could spell trouble in many ways.

Bickering over details of the bill should be limited, then, to allow time for input and debate over the final version. The sooner that can begin, the better.

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