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What to expect from West Virginia Legislature’s special session

By Staff | May 10, 2019

The West Virginia Legislature will probably convene in special session May 20, to consider K-12 education issues, and maybe a few other things.

We’re already technically in that special session. On March 9, when the 2019 Regular Session ended, Governor Jim Justice called the Legislature into immediate special session to consider K-12 education issues. That night, upon completing the Regular Session, the House and Senate began the special session and immediately adjourned it to an unknown future date. We’ll go back into the session whenever the Speaker of the House and the Senate President decide.

The Legislature is scheduled to hold interim meetings May 20-21. “Interims” are held most months (for a couple of days each) every year between regular sessions, during which committees usually meet, especially joint House-Senate committees. Dozens of issues are studied, with the idea of crafting bills for introduction at the commencement of the next Regular Session. Neither house can meet as a body, and we cannot pass anything into law.

Special sessions are often held in conjunction with interims (since legislators are already scheduled to be in Charleston). During a special session called by the governor (as this one is) only those items the governor places on the “call” may be taken up by the Legislature.

A special session called by the governor is called a special “extraordinary” session. The Legislature may call itself into special session, but it’s only done so a couple of times in the 156 year history of our state. Such a session is called a special “general” session, meaning any bill may be introduced on any subject.

The principal focus of this special session is the “Omnibus Education bill” passed by the Senate and killed by the House in the 2019 Regular session. Governor Justice may decide to add other items, but even if he does most of the attention will be on K-12 education.

Can we craft a version of the K-12 bill that can pass?

All the Democrats in the House and Senate and some Republicans in each believe that the only urgent thing to do is provide a 5% pay raise for teachers and school service workers. So far Senate President Mitch Carmichael insists that the only way these folks will get a pay raise is if a bill similar to the doomed 2019 Senate bill passes both Houses.

That bill included provisions for privately run “charter” schools funded by tax money and “educational savings accounts” (that’s a fancy name for “vouchers”). It also included punishment for employees who demonstrate for better pay and working conditions. Opposition to these ideas is broad and deep.

I favor some “reform” measures. Several very good ones were included in the House version of the 2019 K-12 bill. But the Senate rejected them, and seems poised to reject them again.

Perhaps we’ll all get to Charleston and find a compromise that can pass each house of the Legislature. If we can’t, the session may be adjourned until the June Interims.