Conference committee to decide fate of teacher pay raise bill

All 55 counties in West Virginia are closing school again for Monday, day eight of the teacher strike. (Margaret Reffett)

All 55 counties in West Virginia have closed school again for Monday, day eight of the teacher strike. This follows a confusing and crazy day at the West Virginia Capitol Saturday. Teachers are not backing down from the original agreement they said they were promised by Gov. Jim Justice, a 5 percent raise.

On Saturday, the West Virginia Senate decided to change the 5 percent pay raise bill for teachers, service personnel and State Police to a 4 percent pay raise, but the West Virginia House did not concur with the Senate.

So what happens next? It's a question many people have been asking. The pay raise bill now goes to conference committee.

But what is a conference committee? It's where three people from the Senate and House will meet and try to resolve the differences between the two bills. The members of this committee are made up of four Republicans and two Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, and both chairs of the finance committees. This conference committee has three days to work out its difference. Sunday was day one, and the committee members did not decide to meet, according to West Virginia Democrats' Facebook page.

Once they meet, it leads to the next question, what happens if they can't agree? One of the committee members, Del. Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said if no agreement is reached, it would be considered an impasse and the bill has the potential to die. Boggs said all six conferees don't have to agree, but they need five out of the six. If an agreement is reached in conference, a report would then be brought back to each body. Then each body would have to approve the report and revote on the bill.

If the bill does die, the other pay raise bill of 2 percent then 1 percent over two years, which was signed into law a week and a half ago. would be what teachers would get. School service personnel and State Police would get 2 percent the first year and 1 percent the following year.

Some lawmakers, union leaders and even some members of the public think the Senate is trying to split public employees, but one teacher said they will stay united.

"Oh, they absolutely are, but thanks to social media it is harder and harder to get by with those tricks," Webster County Teacher, Rick Cutplit. "I'm not optimistic that they will pull this together, but they probably should,."

Senate Republicans said the 4 percent pay raise is about fairness and they would like to give all state employees not just teachers, service personnel and State Police a raise of 4 percent. But that raise for all other employees has to be done in a separate bill, known as the budget bill.

Many people, including union leaders, said the Senate's decision of 4 percent has really been a slap in the face to West Virginia employees and they are continuing the statewide strike.

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