Hundreds of teachers rally at Capitol

CHARLESTON — The typically orderly proceedings of the Senate turned somewhat chaotic just after noon Feb. 16, spurred by Democratic frustration with decisions by the GOP leadership.

The floor session ended abruptly after tempers erupted, leadership called a surprise recess, Republicans headed into the back room, angry Democrats stood on the Senate floor confused and frustrated, and red-shirted teachers and school service personnel jamming the three galleries began chanting and jeering.

Before the Senate began work on bills Feb. 16, Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, moved to have the teacher and service employee pay raise bill, SB 267, pulled from the Rules Committee to the Senate floor for debate.

The Senate previously sent the bill to the House with five annual 1 percent raises for teachers, as proposed by the governor. The House returned it Feb. 13 with a 2 percent raise followed by three annual 1 percent raises. Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, moved the bill to Rules on Feb. 15 — putting it in limbo until leadership and the governor’s office decided how to proceed.

When Prezioso moved to have the bill discharged, Judiciary chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, immediately moved to stop any debate by calling the question. Prezioso’s motion failed 12-21 on party lines.

Things returned to a tense normal for a bit. They passed three bills. They came to an under-the-radar bill about consumer loans, SB 398, and Prezioso rose to protest that he thought the bill had been killed in committee. He complained that the bill had been resurrected behind opponents’ backs at a later meeting they couldn’t attend.

During a lull, Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, and Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, could be seen spatting angrily at their desks just a few feet apart.

Carmichael loudly banged his gavel to call the Senate back to order and Trump moved to recess. Democrats shouted no and the audience joined in, but Carmichael called the recess and Republicans left the floor.

Asked what was going on, Prezioso pointed toward the empty president’s podium and said, “You’d have to ask them.” He assumed it had something to do with SB 267.

Democrats made the way out to the platform overlooking the main floor, where hundreds of red shirts — who’d taken the day off from their schools to come and rally — began shouting “We will strike!” and “Do your job!” and other slogans. The shouts echoed deafeningly off the marble walls. Democrat Senators waved and raised their fists in support.

The Senate was set to return to the floor and resume its business at 6 p.m. following afternoon committee meetings.