House committees moving some bills that aren’t omnibus

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With red-shirted teachers packing the galleries, hallways and meeting rooms, the House of Delegates convened Monday morning to take up education betterment.

Both prominent Senate education bills fell by the wayside in fairly short order, to be replaced by similar but different House measures.

Democrats made not-unexpected and predictably unsuccessful attempts to kill the two bills that came over from the Senate: SB 1039, the Student Success Act (SSA), called by some Omnibus II, and SB 1040, to establish education savings accounts (ESAs).

Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, moved to reject the SSA, but Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, countered that with a motion to table motion, which passed 53-44 and was assigned to one of the four select committees handling the various bills: Committee C, to be specific.

Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh

Bates also tried to have the ESA bill rejected, but Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said that one had already been referred to Committee B.

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, made the final gesture, moving to adjourn sine die and end the special session. That failed 41-56.

Bates made a floor speech, reading the comments he’d prepared to argue in favor of killing the omnibus bill.

“Under Senator Carmichael’s leadership and Governor Justice’s lack of it,” he said, “betterment has become an embarrassment.”

The omnibus bill has items he and other Democrats could support, he said. But they can’t because the teachers are back and the bill lacks the word of the day, “RESPECT,” meaning respect for the voices of the people who’ve voiced opposition to charter schools, and because it lacks respect for the state Constitution and the requirement that a bill comprises a single object.

The House recessed at about 9:30, planning to reconvene at 6 p.m., following committee meetings.

Committee C met in the smallest meeting room in the building, House Education, preventing more than a couple of handfuls of the teachers on hand to jam into the room. Delegate Brent Boogs, D-Braxton, tried but failed to get the meeting moved to the House chamber to accommodate a bigger audience.

Committee C never took up the SSA bill, introducing its own similar but significantly different bill instead.

Committee B, on the other hand, met in the House’s biggest meeting room, Government Organization, which was packed to standing room only well before the meeting began.

And it never took up the ESA bill, passing instead a package of tax credit bills. Here’s how that unfolded.

They first unanimously passed HB 168. It creates a tax credit for any taxpayer who makes a contribution to an eligible scholarship-granting organization. The credit would equal 50 percent of the total amount of the contributions made during a taxable year, up to $1,000 for single individuals; $2,000 for married individuals filing jointly; or $100,000 for any legal business entity. The scholarships would chiefly benefit private school students. Total annual credits are capped at $5 million.

It also creates tax credits for any taxpayer who contributes to an eligible education improvement grant organization or an eligible public school district or foundation. The limits are the same. No school district would receive more than $100,000.

The committee also passed, with two or three voice votes against, HB 167, which offers homeschool and private school families tax credits of up to $3,000 per student. Answering some questions, committee counsel said that this doesn’t translate to money in the pocket for families that spend less or who owe the state less than $3,000.

A redshirt in the audience said to her neighbor, “That is ridiculous.”

Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel, was one of the few no votes. “I have a problem with what we’re doing here,” he said.

Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel

The committee then took an hour break – accompanied by grumbling from the red shirts in the audience seats.

When they returned, they took up three more bills, all passed unanimously.

HB 171 re-establishes a sales tax holiday for shopping for school supplies, including laptops and tablets.

HB 173 is sole-sponsored by Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph. It establishes an annual $2,000 cost-of-living allowance for retired teachers and service workers.

HB 174 reflects a rare flicker of the governor’s presence during this education betterment session that he called. It establishes innovation schools and sets up the application process. It points out that this doesn’t alter or supersede innovation zones.

After the meeting adjourned, chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said the tax credits accomplish similar purposes similar to the ESA bill. “It was still a way to do that. I think it was a little more palatable for people to look at it as not letting some third party gain interest in the financial part of it. Whereas the person who does contribute gets the break, instead of putting money into having an organization run ESAs.”

And the bills benefit all three populations, he said: public-, private- and homeschoolers.

So the ESA bill is not moving at the moment, he said. “I can’t say that couldn’t be something in the future. It’s hard to say what the level of support was completely for that.”

When the House reconvened at 6 pm, B 167, 168, 171 and 173 were all sent to the Finance Committee, which meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday. HB 174 was read a first item and will be on second reading Tuesday.

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