House of Delegates Announces New Chairs, Removes McGeehan from All Committees

CHARLESTON — During a special session of the West Virginia Legislature, Hancock County Delegate Pat McGeehan was removed from all House committee assignments amid a reshuffle of committee members.

McGeehan, a Republican, had butted heads with House leadership in February, resulting in his removal as a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He had also chaired the House Veterans Affairs Committee and sat on the House Banking and Insurance Committee. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, sent McGeehan a letter dated July 15 informing him he had also been removed from the joint interim committees.

McGeehan was removed from the House Judiciary Committee by Hanshaw just a day after he voted against Senate Bill 451 — the first education omnibus bill — one of 12 Republicans to do so.

Both McGeehan and Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, were removed from their committee postings completely at Wednesday’s session. Both were the only Republicans to vote in favor of a motion by House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, to end the special session before taking a vote on House Bill 206, another education omnibus bill with a number of reform measures, which was passed in June and signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice on June 28.

McGeehan said his actions on HB 206 were to save taxpayer dollars — the same reason he’d given in February for voting against the omnibus bill — calling Hanshaw “intellectually dishonest” for punishing members for doing what they felt was right on behalf of their constituents.

“Typically, only those in power who are either unwilling or incapable of making strong logical arguments openly in civil debate will resort to such tactics,” McGeehan said. “In this particular case, bringing the special session to a close ahead of time would’ve saved the taxpayers roughly $200 million (and that figure fixes many potholes and buys a whole lot of new pavement).”

Both bodies of the Legislature plan to resume the special session next week coinciding with regularly scheduled interim meetings to pass supplemental bills.

The state Senate announced that it will resume the special session at noon Tuesday. The House of Delegates will resume the special session at 10 a.m. Monday. The special session was called March 9 — the day after the regular session of the Legislature ended to allow lawmakers to work on education betterment.

The Legislature completed its work on a number of education bills, including HB 206. Lawmakers also passed other bills, including supplemental appropriations.

Jared Hunt, communications director for the House, said Monday’s House floor session would bring an end to the special session.

“Per (Hanshaw), the intent of this floor session is to complete the work of the first extraordinary session,” Hunt said. “Since this coincides with regularly scheduled interim meetings next week, it will limit any additional costs for taxpayers.”

According to Senate Communications Director Jacque Bland, senators will meet Tuesday to consider pending supplemental appropriations as well as confirm appointments made by Justice. She said the Senate has made no decision yet to end the special session.

If the house adjourns sine die — a Latin term meaning that the session is over without a scheduled date to return — it will limit what the Senate can do, such as amending bills that need to return to the house for concurrence.

HB 206, signed into law in June, provides a 5 percent pay raise for teachers and staff that goes into effect this coming school year. It also includes greater hiring flexibility and pay differentials for teachers, open enrollment between counties, more funding and control of spending at the county school level, and the state’s first public charter school program. The West Virginia Education Association announced its intent to file suit against the new law July 10.

Since the vote, Hanshaw appointed a new chair and vice chair for the Education and Health committees. Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, is the new House Education Committee chairman. Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, is the new vice chairman. Ellington, an OBG/GYN, will replace Delegate Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, who resigned his committee chairmanship in May after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a committee staffer. House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, served as interim chairman of the House Education Committee during the June special session.

Higginbotham replaced vice chairman Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, a school principal who offered several amendments to HB 206 — and Senate Bill 451 during the regular session — to either water down the charter school provisions or remove charters from the bills entirely. He continues to serve as an education committee member.

Replacing Ellington as chairman of the House Health and Human Resources Committee is Delegate Jordan Hill, R-Nicholas. Delegate Jeffrey Pack, R-Raleigh, moves from vice chairman of the House Government Organization Committee to vice chair of the health committee. Delegate Carl Martin, R-Upshur, will replace Pack as government organization’s vice chairman.

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