CHARLESTON — People who want to speak up about a big education bill now have two opportunities.
After a brief debate on the House floor, delegates voted unanimously to add a 5:30 p.m. Monday hearing to the one that had already been scheduled for 8 a.m.
“We’ll be able to accommodate a variety of people,” said House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor.
Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton, D-Kanawha, also spoke in favor of the change.
“I’m going to encourage that we pass this amendment so that the true stakeholders in public education, our students, will have an opportunity to attend,” she said.
The meeting is meant to address a 125-page bill that would make a variety of changes to West Virginia’s school system. It would bundle long-promised pay raises with charter schools, education savings accounts, a change to authority over local school levies, banking of unused personal days and more.
When the bill flowed out of the Senate, teachers said they hadn’t gotten a fair chance to weigh in.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw requested the public hearing for Monday. But when the 8 a.m. time was announced, many teachers said their jobs would interference with attendance.
Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, made a motion that at first just switched from the 8 a.m. time to a proposed 5:30 time.
“At 8 a.m. they will simply be at work or in school,” Hornbuckle said. “This will give them the opportunity to have time to make public comment.”
The Republican majority countered that some people had already planned on the 8 a.m. time. They said people from the Eastern Panhandle, who have to take hours of travel into account, should be considered.
“People are aware of that and are already starting to make arrangements,” Summers said at first. “I feel that time should be honored.”
President Pro-Tem Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, chimed in: “If we change the time, we lose the advance notice we were trying to give.”
Delegate Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley, argued that teachers should be given every opportunity to speak.
“We’re going to have a public hearing on Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill, at a time when teachers can’t show up,” he said.
“We have heard from teachers across the state who feel disrespected who feel they weren’t included on the drafting of Senate Bill 451, and now we’re going to have a public hearing at a time they can’t be here.”
Local teachers unions have been having votes this week on authorizing “work actions.” A meeting has been scheduled for Saturday in Flatwoods to tally the results.
All this comes a year after thousands of teachers flooded the Capitol for nine days for better wages and stable insurance.
“A year ago our teachers felt so disrespected that they listened in those galleries, they chanted in the hallways and they rallied on the steps,” Barrett said. “And if we’re not careful, Mr. Speaker, they’re going to be back.”
Delegate David Kelly, R-Doddridge, moved to keep the 8 a.m. meeting and add the 5:30 one.
HIs amendment passed 96-0 with four absences.
Then the amended motion to have an 8 a.m. public hearing and then another also passed 96-0.
Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said he’d been researching whether legislative rules would allow for two public hearings on the same topic. He felt confident that the two public hearings would be allowed.
“I think it gets us out of a pickle,” he said.
Speaker Hanshaw appeared on MetroNews’ “Talkline” earlier on Friday to discuss the public hearing.