While the vote was originally supposed to happen Friday, lawmakers bumped a vote on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin‘s controversial education reform bill to today’s Senate floor session. Don’t be surprised if we hear some debate. There are deep divisions on this issue, even in the usually collegial and quiet Senate. Follow me on Twitter for live updates from the floor.
Of course, the bill that passes the Senate today could be much less controversial than the bill we saw last week. Lawmakers and teachers union officials met over the weekend to work on the bill and try to reach a compromise. It’s unclear what changes have been made at this point, but here’s an excerpt from today’s story:
“I think we’ve made some progress,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.
Although a heavily revised version of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s bill was set for a vote in the Senate on Friday, lawmakers instead went behind closed doors for discussions. Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said on Friday that closed-door talks lead to more open discussion.
Rather than push the bill through, Kessler said it was better to take “a deep breath.”
He expected the bill would move on quickly to the House after today’s vote. With any luck, he said it would be out of the Legislature well before the end of the current session.
Kessler’s optimism about the education bill’s chances in the House are surprising, since the House Education Committee has long been dominated by teachers and union members. That could be why Kessler and House Speaker Rick Thompson agreed to start the education bill in the Senate, hoping it would gain enough momentum on the west wing that it would sail through the other side.
As I reported in January, there are significantly fewer union members on the House Education Committee now than in years past, but the remaining members still hold powerful positions on that panel. House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, is a retired educator and lifetime member of the West Virginia Education Association.
Poling is in charge of setting her committee’s agenda, which means she could allow the education bill to die in her committee without ever coming up for a vote.
Gov. Tomblin probably hopes Kessler’s assumptions are correct. As the Associated Press reports today, the education bill largely has overshadowed the governor’s 28 other bills currently before the Legislature.
With the education proposal up for a vote Monday in the Senate, just two of the governor’s bills have passed at least one chamber. The House last month approved his steep increases of fines for pipeline safety violations, following the fiery December rupture of a Sissonville natural gas line. Delegates on Friday sent the first of Tomblin’s bills to his desk, a supplemental budget measure maintaining funding for child day care aid while paying court-appointed lawyers.
Around a dozen more of Tomblin’s measures have cleared at least one committee, but the rest are idling.
Besides the schools bill, the agenda item with the highest profile is drawn from the recent Justice Reinvestment Initiative study of West Virginia’s inmate crowding crisis. Among other provisions, it would increase supervision and drug treatment options for inmates upon release and reduce the number of parolees who are returned to prison for minor violations. The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced that bill earlier this month, though it still faces critics of its provision releasing non-violent offenders into supervised programs six months before their sentences end.
Also in today’s paper, Dave writes about coming changes to the Industrial Home for Youth in Salem. Officials announced last week the juvenile detention center will become a prison for adult offenders. Completing that change will require legislative action, however.
The actions might be simple: the statute would change the name of the Industrial Home for Youth to the Salem Correctional Center, (Tomblin general counsel Peter) Markham said. Code needs to be tweaked so that the center falls under the purview of the state Division of Corrections instead of the Division of Juvenile Services, which oversees the facility in Salem and other juvenile centers.
The ramifications of the statute are widespread. The move shifts the 49 remaining juvenile offenders to other facilities while freeing up the Salem location for 300 or more adult prisoners.
“We believe we can do a great job of rehabilitating our juveniles at our existing facilities, and – for much less cost than it would take to comply with the judge’s order – we’ll be able to get well in excess of 300 adult inmates into Salem,” Rob Alsop, Tomblin chief of staff, said Friday morning.
The judge’s order Alsop referenced came as a result of a 2012 lawsuit from Mountain State Justice, a Charleston-based public interest law firm. On behalf of two inmates, the lawsuit alleges offenders at Salem are treated like adult prisoners and not juveniles, a violation of state code.
And that’s all for Monday’s lunchtime rundown. Check back soon for an update on today’s Senate floor session, and be sure to read tomorrow’s Daily Mail for complete coverage of today’s legislative action.