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‘Anti-Racism Act’ sinks at the end and takes out others in its wake

The controversial “Anti-Racism Act” missed a deadline for passage on the final day of the legislative session, and long debates over that legislation were a factor in wiping out more bills, too.

A Senate vote on “The Anti-Racism Act,” a bill sparked by the national conversation on critical race theory, unfolded right through midnight Saturday. A majority of senators voted in favor of the bill, and it initially appeared to have passed. But a review by the Senate clerk revealed the bill had not actually gotten through before the midnight deadline.

It was one of many bills that lawmakers discussed over the course of the 60-day session but didn’t manage to pass in the end. When one chamber passes a bill, the other needs to act in some way to complete the legislation, concurring, further amending or rejecting. Ignoring is also an option. Those actions can be simple or complicated, but take some time either way.

After the final day of this year’s legislative session, there were still 11 bills needing action in the House, including bills to reduce co-pays on insulin and devices, making adjustments to the foster care system, creating an unemployment fraud unit and more. About 30 more bills remained on the House’s “inactive” calendar.

At the same time, there were even more bills, about two dozen, left stranded because they still needed some Senate action. Those included a tax break for developing rare earth elements, a bill clarifying that tenancy includes people who live in sober living homes and a bill about the relationship between Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College.

Some of that occurred when lawmakers chose against legislation in the end, after pushing bills right up to the finish line. Some happened because of time management. And some happened because the “Anti-Racism Act” served as a glacier, prompting long debates, causing other bills to be pushed aside and, in the end, throwing the final legislative schedule off course.

“A lot of that happened with the length of the debates that started happening on the House side that really started backing up a lot of legislation that was moving through,” Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said Tuesday on “580 Live” on WCHS Radio.

Tarr referred to a long debate Saturday morning on the House floor about the budget bill along with lengthy debate among delegates on an abortion bill.

“And when you saw the Anti-Racism bill, there were hours of debate on that as well. As that happens on the last day of session, all the bills that need to get through by midnight are starting to stack up,” he said.

Long debates over ‘Anti-Racism Act’

Progress during the final days of the legislative session started going sideways on Thursday evening as the House of Delegates considered amendments to “The Anti-Racism Act.” Senate Bill 498 would have prohibited compelling student adherence to concepts like one race being inherently morally or intellectually superior to another.

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, offered an amendment to establish a commission of academic representatives who could provide guidance on areas where history lessons don’t tell the full story of some groups. His proposal was swiftly ruled not germane to the bill.

That kicked off an angry back-and-forth among delegates.

Democrats wound up making motions for bills to be read out loud in their entirety. The Republican majority in the House moved all the remaining bills on the agenda that evening to the inactive calendar.

By Friday, everything was off course. That morning started late as the two caucuses had back room discussions about how to get along. Eventually, many of the bills that had been shuffled to “inactive” were revived a day late and behind schedule for passage.

Delegates debated The Anti-Racism Act for another two hours before passing it to the Senate.

During that discussion, House Minority Leader Doug Skaff noted just how much collective time had gone into various incarnations of the policy in committees and on the floor. “Ladies and gentlemen, unnecessary piece of legislation. So many more pressing issues out there that I wish we would have spent seven days, 12 hours, 36 minutes on,” he said.

Last-second in the Senate

The Senate had all day Saturday to receive the House’s message about “The Anti-Racism Act.” And senators were still passing bills on Saturday, too. Senators cranked out legislation but also took extended breaks and engaged in some ceremonial activities like honoring departing colleagues.

With a pile of bills still to conclude, Tarr said on radio Tuesday, “we start stacking those based on the priority legislation. And you also stack it on the length of the debate that’s going to ensure when that bill comes up. So the more controversial stuff will tend to go toward the bottom of the stack, but then you’re trying to look at strategy to how do you still get it out.”

With a little less than 10 minutes to go on Saturday night, the Senate pace changed. Senate President Craig Blair began moving through the steps of passing each bill at a faster clip. “All those in favor vote yea, all those opposed vote nay; the clerk will prepare the machine,” Blair rattled out prior to last-minute votes.

Before discussion could unfold, Tarr motioned to call the question, a parliamentary move to halt debate.

Progress, intended to be swift, got bogged down in confusion over a final vote on an abortion bill at 11:53. A dozen or more senators came up “absent” on the voting board even though they were present.

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, protested about the confusing process. Caputo said he wasn’t sure whether the vote was supposed to be on Tarr’s procedural motion or on the bill itself.

“I’m just trying to figure out where we’re at. We shut down the machine. The gentleman moved the previous question. We didn’t vote on that yet.” Caputo continued, “I want to know what we were voting on because I heard the machine open. Then I heard you recognize the gentleman, and he called for the previous question and we never voted on the question. So I’m trying to figure out where we’re at.”

“I’m trying to push through these bills for you guys,” Blair responded. “OK? We’re trying to get across the finish line. We’re burning the clock right now.”

“I just want to vote,” Caputo said. “As long as you tell me what I’m voting on, I’ll vote.”

That was at 11:54.

At 11:55, the abortion bill passed.

Almost 11:56, senators worked to finish up work on a bill about learning pods and micro-schools, which would operate less formally than traditional schools.

“I move the previous question,” Tarr again said, shutting down debate. Democrats yelled “roll call,” asking for a formal vote on Tarr’s motion.

As the Senate’s parliamentarian provided guidance, Blair got more flustered.

By the time the micro-schools bill gained final passage, it was 11:58.

Two minutes were left for “The Anti-Racism Act.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo popped it into play at 17 seconds past 11:58.

“I move the Senate concur to House changes on Senate Bill 498,” said Takubo, R-Kanawha. He went on to explain that delegates had removed the elements of sex and ethnicity, among other changes, from the bill senators first passed. The House version also removed higher education from being affected.

“While having these two elements in the bill would have been better, concurring is better than losing the bill.”

Tarr, at one second before 11:59, again moved the previous question.

Six seconds after 11:59, Democrats again cried for a formal vote on his motion.

Blair declared the motion sustaining Tarr’s motion to be adopted at 11:59 and 26 seconds.

At 11:59 and 43 seconds, a majority of senators voted to concur with how the House of Delegates had changed the bill.

At 11:59 and 45 seconds, Blair signaled the vote on final passage of the bill. “All those in favor vote yea, all those opposed vote nay; the clerk will prepare the machine.”

Seconds ticked by. The voting board lit up.

“Has every member voted? Has every member voted?” Blair asked at 11:59 and 53 seconds. “If so, the clerk will close the machine and ascertain the results.”

The Senate president read the vote totals: 22 votes for passage, 10 votes for rejection and two absences.

“I thought the bill passed,” Tarr said Tuesday.

Most senators were looking at an analog clock that emphasizes minutes rather than seconds. “So at midnight, when I was looking at it, I thought ‘Sigh of relief. We got it through.”

As the clock hit midnight, Blair was still speaking.

“More than a majority of those elected having voted in the affirmative, I declare the bill passed. Clerk will communicate the action and send it to the House.”







Words take time.

The Senate president finished his instructions at six seconds after midnight.

Too late.

Moments after that, senators resolved “sine die” to end the regular legislative session.

“I declare the Legislature adjourned,” Blair said. “Sine die.”

Tarr, speaking on talk radio Tuesday, acknowledged that the lengthy debates over controversial legislation in the House of Delegates influenced the Senate’s timetable on the session’s final day.

“We realize that’s where the minority party especially would start to filibuster those bills if they run early,” Tarr said. “So one of the things that, as a strategy, is to run those later so that as we go through we can get through the bills that are not going to generate so much debate or filibustering, we can move those through as fast as we can.”

In the end, by six seconds, the strategy left “The Anti-Racism Act” on the floor.

More bills, most far lower profile, were right there with it.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said that happens sometimes over the course of a 60-day legislative session: there’s a lot of time until there’s none left.

“The 60-day legislative session is an incredibly short period of time if you’re trying to get something done but an incredibly long period of time if you’re trying to keep something from happening,” he said.

“We come here every January with ideas in mind about what we plan to do for the next 60 days, and then we turn around and the 60 days are gone and we’ve already got a lengthy list for all the things we want to work on over the interim period and what we know we’ve got to get done headed into next January, which is where our heads are already.”

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