Odds and ends out of Charleston
I’m starting to feel more hopeful that the re-start of the special session won’t be as contentious as I thought it might be, though I still think some of what the governor and lawmakers want to do is on the ambitious side.
The hope continues to be that state Senate and House of Delegates leadership can come to a consensus on possible education reform legislation with Gov. Jim Justice in time for May interim meetings May 20-21.
I don’t think the plan is to completely reinvent education in the span of a couple of days. Much of the heavy lifting will still need to be done during the next legislative session next January.
I think you’ll see education savings accounts shelved for the time being and studied by both the legislature and the state Department of Education. I’m also certain lawmakers are watching Tennessee and the fight they just had trying to create an education savings account program.
I think you’ll see the two branches settle for a three-school public charter school pilot. The unions will dump ashes on their heads and put on sackcloth, but this is largely not a big deal and no teacher will see an impact from such a program.
You’ll also see the return of proposals to give county school systems more flexibility, more access to state funding, and the ability to use incentives to hire the teachers they need for the fields that are in high demand, such as math. You’ll see maybe more than the original $24 million funding proposal for additional counselors and nurses.
Where I have a concern is some of the vetoed legislation that also might be added to the special session call. I don’t have a problem with this, but will lawmakers have the time in two days to get that done plus an education reform push? As long as the session coincides with the two-day interim meetings at the Capitol, it won’t cost any additional money. If it goes beyond that, it’s $35,000 per day for lawmakers and staff.
The last thing I wanted to do last week was write a story about a member of the House of Delegates resigning their leadership position because of an affair with a temporary staff member. But Del. Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, made that impossible with the statement he released.
It was already becoming the worst-kept secret under the dome. Hamrick, who just turned 31 eight days ago, resigned as the chairman of the House Education Committee when his affair with a college intern assigned to his committee came to the attention of House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. Hanshaw wasn’t given a choice; it was either resign or be removed, but he wasn’t going to stay as education committee chairman.
I really don’t care about relationships between two consenting adults. Also, when you’re stuck in a building away from your home for 60 days, this is probably more common than anyone would care to publicly admit. Having worked for the state Senate, I can tell you there are way worse horror stories.
But the timing couldn’t be worse with this special session focused on education. Now Hanshaw has to pick a new education committee chairman, and I imagine the pressure is on to pick someone who can shepherd education reform bills through without them being completely watered down. I haven’t heard any possible names but expect a replacement very soon.
I’m told that some members of the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee met with Gov. Justice on Thursday night at the Governor’s Mansion. Some members are regretting their vote of no confidence in Justice a few weeks ago. Aside from Harrison County and the state’s Federation of College Republicans, the no confidence movement has largely petered out.
I haven’t been as quick as others to jump on this new controversy regarding county emergency service directors and their concerns about permanently putting the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management under the West Virginia National Guard, and placing both of those agencies out from under the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and directly answerable to the Governor’s Office and a “state resiliency officer.”
I’ve had some conversations that have been eye-opening, and I am looking into this issue. But I’m still not sold that this is as big of a deal as some want it to be. I wish there had been this much interest in how homeland security operates the near decade Jimmy Gianato ran the division.
I also think for some counties, there is probably a behind-the-scenes concern that the new auditing system put in place by the national guard and the division might find the next Richwood in their backyard. I imagine if you look, you can find many other instances of federal emergency grant misuse. That could give a city or county a bad day.
But I do think the issues about shifting FEMA hazard mitigation grant funds into other projects the state wants to do is a real concern. Who wouldn’t be tempted with millions of dollars out there?
Ok folks, this is my final column before leaving for vacation. See you on May 20 when I return.
(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)