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Charter schools bill revived; some senators fuming

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Charter schools bill revived; some senators fuming
By Jeff Jenkins, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Republicans used their majority in the state Senate to revive the charter schools bill Tuesday afternoon creating a firestorm between Republicans and Democrats.

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee made a move Monday that they thought killed the bill (SB14) when they successfully passed a motion to postpone the bill indefinitely but Republicans revived it during Tuesday’s floor session discharging the bill from committee and moving it straight to the floor on first reading over the objections of Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall).

“Mr. President we operate under Jeffersonian rules..and once that bill has been postponed indefinitely it is done for the session,” Kessler said raising his voice.

But Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer) disagreed and asked the Senate parliamentarian for a ruling. The parliamentarian said the Senate could revive the bill by discharging the committee. The move was approved 18-16.

“We asked the parliamentarian to provide the exact guidance on it. His ruling on it was we did it the exact right way,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) told reporters after the floor session was cut short.

Kessler, standing close by, disagreed.

“This is politics folks, you got more numbers you win,” he said. “Yesterday we had more numbers, today, I guess they had more numbers so you’ve seen it at its finest.”

Carmichael said Democrats ignored the weeks of work on the charter school bill when they made their move Monday, taking advantage of three Republican senators being absent from the committee meeting. Carmichael said they are ignoring something that would be good for West Virginia children. Kessler said those who operate the state’s education system don’t want the bill.

The impact of majority’s move remains to be seen but it could cause things to slow down in during floor sessions. Senator Bob Beach (D-Monongalia) wants all bills on third reading read in their entirety, a motion that was initially turned down by President Cole,  but later approved. Senator John Unger (D-Berkeley) said things are now on “shaky ground.”

“If rules don’t apply and the Constitution doesn’t apply, what does? Whatever they make up and say? If they discharged after a committee acted on it that means that if any committee would even vote down a bill they could do a motion to discharge at anytime. That means committee structures have been decimated,” Unger said.

The bill would allow county school boards to create public charter schools. The measure is opposed by labor including the teacher unions. The state Department of Education has also said it’s had no input on the bill.

If it stays on its current schedule, the bill would be up for final passage in the Senate Thursday.