W.Va. regular session ends, overtime on education looms
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia legislature ended its regular session Saturday and is now moving into a legislative overtime where lawmakers plan to debate teacher raises and other education measures that launched strikes this year and last.
Lawmakers capped their 60-day regular session in an around-the-clock slog spent cramming last-minute legislation and, around midnight, formally entering a special session on education expected to reconvene in later this year.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the additional session and has asked legislators to meet with teachers, parents and other stakeholders before returning to the statehouse.
Money for teacher raises has been earmarked in a legislature-approved budget, but the funding won’t go into effect until it’s addressed in the special session.
It’s unclear exactly when the legislature would return, but Republican leadership is signaling they might reconvene in late spring or early summer, which union leaders say might be a strategy to negate the impact of a third strike.
Teachers took to the picket line last month for a two-day strike over a complex education bill that tied their pay raise to the formation of the state’s first charter schools and education savings accounts that would help parents pay for schools.
Schools in all but one of the state’s 55 counties closed as educators protested and packed the state Capitol, arguing that the bill was retaliation for last year’s nine-day strike over pay raises and health insurance.
The proposal eventually failed. But union leaders and lawmakers have recently expressed fears that the special session offers a second opportunity at the measures that caused the strike.
On Saturday, legislators raced against deadline to send multiple proposals to the governor’s office.
They approved a measure to reduce the tax on West Virginia steam coal. Another bill would allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control to women ages 18 or older. A third proposal increases the limit on political donations to candidate committees, state party executive committees and political action committees.
All await the governor’s signature to become law.