In addition to our daily lunchtime rundowns, on Fridays Zack and I will try to give a recap of the highlights from the latest week in the Legislature, as well as some future topics we think could come up during the following week.
Legislators and educators alike expected education would play a major role in this year’s legislative session, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin did not disappoint. His focus on education both exhilarated educators while leaving questions with lawmakers and unions. Some wondered whether the ideas–like changes to the emphasis on seniority in teacher hiring practices— would survive the House Education committee, labeled as a stumbling block to change in the past.
State superintendent Jim Phares and state Board of Education president were ecstatic with the education ideas proposed by the governor. They pledged to follow through with his call to action by following their own.
As required by law, Tomblin also introduced a balanced budget. He did so without increasing taxes or laying off employees. Mike McKown, his budget officer, said this year’s budget gap presented the toughest challenge he can remember. And, for next year at least, things don’t look any rosier.
Tomblin also fired up his “Get high, don’t get hired” campaign. (In his speech, he said “if you get high, you won’t get hired.”) It’s supposed to point to the perils drug use can cause in getting and keeping a job.
Highway workers descended on the Capitol, prompting lawmakers to discuss ways to find new funding for highway improvement projects. That could include tolls, taxes or bonds, said Sen. President Jeff Kessler.
The governor’s staff said he plans to introduce about 30 bills this session, and he’s pledged to send all of them to either the House or Senate by the end of next week. Everyone is waiting to see the details of those measures–particularly the education bill(s?)–as well as which chamber he chooses for which bill. Expect more next week from the governor on addressing prison overcrowding too.