Week Three At the Capitol

The third week of the 2019 legislative session finally saw the debut of the education omnibus bill, and the roll out could have probably been handled better.

Rumors had been flying about the bill since the beginning of January. No one was sure what was in it, but the rumors reached a fever pitch last week.

Several of the unions representing teachers, school service personnel, and administrators sent lawmakers a letter last Tuesday asking them to vote against the bill sight unseen. Those same unions are holding a press conference this morning regarding the “education omnibus.”

The bill finally came out Thursday, though not the way bills usually do. Most bills are introduced through the normal process, where it is introduced on the floor and referred to a committee. In this case, the bill was an “originating bill,” meaning a committee itself developed it.

That also meant there was no publicly available text of the bill for people to view. By the time the committee started, there were at least three versions of the bill floating around, all different. When the committee met Friday, there was yet another version.

Kudos to Senate staff who made Thursday’s third draft and Friday’s fourth draft available to the public. Since the bill is in draft form, they didn’t have to do that. But having so many versions floating around gave Democrats on the Senate Education Committee, who at least appear to be against the bill, an opening to ask about which version they had.

The start of Friday’s committee was delayed because Senate Democrats weren’t sure they had the final draft, so copies had to be printed. At least one senator wanted to get copies of every single version of the draft. I don’t know if the confusion was genuine or a delay tactic and I won’t weigh in on which I think it was, but ultimately the secrecy behind the bill has hurt the rollout of the bill.

I get why some of the secrecy was necessary. There are a lot of things in this bill that the unions don’t want. I imagine Senate Republicans understand they’re not going to get everything they want. This bill will be amended, either on the Senate or House of Delegates side. There is also a good chance Gov. Jim Justice will veto this bill since he has made it clear he does not support charter schools.

I predicted that education would once again be a major dividing issue this legislative session. I wasn’t wrong.

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I won’t opine on the contents of the education omnibus, but I will at least say that it might have been better to do the various provisions — charter schools, education savings accounts, etc. — as separate bills.

Here is the thing. The 5 percent pay raise for teachers and school service personnel is in the bill. If the bill fails, the pay raise fails unless the House moves a version of the pay-raise bill.

If Senate Republicans are fine with that, fair enough. But back in October many of them literally stood behind the governor when he first announced plans to introduce another pay raise. Teachers might remember that.

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I hate to bring up former state senator and presidential candidate Richard Ojeda, a Democrat from Logan County, but it seems his quixotic attempt at seeking the party’s nomination for the White House is already over.

The Intercept reported Friday that Ojeda had ended his presidential campaign.

“I don’t want to see people send money to a campaign that’s probably not going to get off the ground,” Ojeda told reporter Ryan Grim.

Many of his supporters have grown disillusioned with him since he announced his run for president shortly after losing the race for the 3rd Congressional District to Republican Carol Miller in November. The final blow to his reputation was walking away from his state Senate seat to continue this dream.

Dream is the right word for it. Despite coming to national attention and an appearance in a Michael Moore documentary during his congressional race, he wasn’t gaining any traction with national news outlets for his presidential race. He was constantly left off lists of potential candidates. Now with so many high-profile candidates jumping into the race, it’s wise to get out now.

But Ojeda resigned from the Senate, then after his replacement was appointed, he tried to rescind his resignation without success. Now, he won’t be a senator and he won’t be a presidential candidate.

Some stars just burn too bright.

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