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Senate GOP adds strike ban to education bill

West Virginia Senate Republicans amended their sweeping education overhaul bill Sunday to specify that public worker strikes are unlawful, that school workers can be fired if they strike, that school employees* pay can be withheld on strike days and that county superintendents can't close schools in anticipation of a strike or to help a strike.

The amendment comes after two statewide public school workers strikes in as many years.

All county superintendents closed schools before each strike day in both years, except for Putnam County Superintendent John Hudson, who kept schools open this year despite most employees not showing up for work.

Senators approved the amendment by a 17-14 vote. All the Democrats in attendance voted no, as did Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur.

Three senators were absent: Kenny Mann, R-Monroe; Mark Maynard, R-Wayne; and Robert Plymale, D-Wayne.

The Senate's bill, called the Student Success Act (Senate Bill 1039), is now set for a final Senate vote Monday. The Senate reconvenes at 9 a.m. Monday.

The House of Delegates, which would have to pass the same version of the bill for it to go to Republican Gov. Jim Justice for his signature or veto, isn't scheduled to reconvene until June 17.

The Student Success Act would, among many other things, legalize charter schools, raise public school worker pay and lower the amount of daily instructional time students are currently guaranteed.

The Republican-controlled House of Delegates killed Senate Republicans' last "omnibus" education bill (Senate Bill 451) in February, on the first day of this year's two-day strike.

Also Sunday, the Senate had its official "first reading" of another controversial bill (Senate Bill 1040), which would create non-public school vouchers, called "education savings accounts."

Bills have to be read on three separate days, so unless four-fifths of the Senate agree to suspend that rule, this reconvening of the special legislative session on education will have to continue through Tuesday.

"We'll be here until we vote on the ESA bill," said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson.

Sunday also saw Carmichael send to the Judiciary and Finance committees a resolution that would put before voters a proposed state constitutional amendment.

If approved, the amendment — sponsored by Republican Sens. Craig Blair,

R-Berkeley; Greg Boso, R-Nicholas; and Sue Cline, R-Wyoming — would allow the state Legislature to amend and outright reject policies that the state Board of Education passes.

The West Virginia Constitution and past state Supreme Court rulings give the state school board significant power over education — possibly including the ability to ignore many of the laws the Legislature has passed or could pass.

The Senate hasn't yet used any regular committees during this special session, and Carmi-chael said the proposal will take days to vet and he doesn't plan to further extend the special session just to work on it.

There were far fewer public school workers demonstrating at the state Capitol on Sunday as compared to Saturday, the first day that Carmichael reconvened the special session.

For part of Sunday's Senate floor session, workers filled galleries above the chamber, but the chanting crowd in front of the chamber doors didn't materialize in force like Saturday and past strike days.

As for the new anti-strike provisions, Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan and sponsor of the amendment that added them, said the amendment would mean "a codification of what is the current law of West Virginia."

A 1990 state Supreme Court decision didn't go into possible consequences for teachers, but it upheld a Jefferson County court's preliminary injunction to end a strike there, saying that "Public employees have no right to strike in the absence of express legislation or, at the very least, appropriate statutory provisions for collective bargaining, mediation, and arbitration."

"This is retribution," said Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison. "I don't know what else to call it."

Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, said stopping county superintendents from closing schools in regards to strikes limits the local flexibility that Republicans have been advocating.

The governor spoke with Republicans and then Democrats behind closed doors before the floor session started, but some lawmakers from both parties seemed confused as to why.

"We appreciate his opinion and his input," Carmichael said. "But, uh, you know, the ball is pretty far down the road."

"I'm puzzled as to why he was even there," said Blair."... It was unnecessary, I don't know why he's here, period."

"It was quite unusual," said Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion. "He comes in, you know, a couple hours before session and wants to talk to the senators. ... We walked out wondering just why we talked to the governor."

Justice was the one who called the special session on education, and he gave lawmakers broad latitude on what they could do in it by allowing them to consider matters "relating generally to improving, modifying, and making efficiencies to the state's public education system and employee compensation."

He said Sunday he didn't regret calling the session, because he has promised school workers a pay raise.


Tugboats pull in artists, visitors to downtown

HUNTINGTON — Kaitlin Blatt said she is excited to see people's reactions to her family's tugboat sculpture, "Casting Off with Captain Collis."

The tugboat features a sculpture of Collis P. Huntington, one of the pioneers of western railroading and the city of Huntington's namesake.

"People know Capt. Collis for his work on the railroad, but he was also a big entrepreneur for riverways and seaways," Blatt said.

The sculpture was unveiled Sunday as part of the Tri-State Artisans Express public art project, which benefits the Hoops Family Children's Hospital at Cabell Huntington Hospital.

Sponsored by Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation, the project features 38 tugboats painted and designed by regional artists. The Artisans Express tugboats will be up through Oct. 31 between 3rd and 5th avenues and 8th and 10th streets.

The Foundation will have a formal auction and gala for the artists on Saturday, June 15, to raise money for the children's hospital.

Blatt said she worked on her tugboat with her brother, Joshua, and mother, Brooke, for more than two months.

"It's been very positive, and we are very excited we got to be a part of this and raise money for Hoops and just spend time with my family," Kaitlin Blatt said. "God made us all very artistic."

Immediately after the tugboat designs were revealed, people walked around downtown checking out the designs and taking pictures.

In front of City Hall, there is a tugboat modeled after Jim's Steak and Spaghetti House, complete with a strawberry pie bow and spaghetti and meatball stern. This was designed by Robin Tacket and sponsored by Farrell, White & Legg PLLC.

Along Pullman Square is another tugboat called "Hide & Seek" designed by Brianna Allen and sponsored by Jackson Kelly PLLC.

This boat features the mythical creature big foot in humorous scenes, including sun bathing on a beach towel.

Melanie Kerstetter and her 4-year-old daughter, Maybree, were busy checking out the tugboat "Monkolicious," which was designed by Tony Wheeler and sponsored by Paris Signs.

The tugboat features are a large purple monkey riding in a tugboat that has been converted into a race car.

Each tugboat has a hidden Hoops Family Children's Hospital logo to find. Maybree Kerstetter exclaimed, "There it is!" when her mother pointed out the logo on the underside of the boat.

This is the second Artisans Express public art project. The foundation's first was a 2015 project that placed 42 art trains around downtown Huntington. Some of those trains (bought by local businesses) still remain around the city at various businesses.

Kevin Fowler, president and CEO of Cabell Huntington Hospital, said fundraising is essential to the work of the Hoops Family Children's Hospital.

"We want world-class pediatric care in our community, and we deserve it," Fowler said. "Here's an opportunity to continue that legacy that was started back in 2008 or so with a plan of getting a children's hospital here in Huntington."

To learn more about the tugboats and how to get a ticket to this year's gala and auction, visit www.facebook.com/tri-stateartisansexpress.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.


City mowing lots not in compliance with ordinance

HUNTINGTON — The city of Huntington is preparing for summer mowing, which includes cutting the grass of property owners who ignore code enforcement citations.

Beginning in the next few weeks, the city will contract out the mowing services of city lots. The city's Public Works Department also will release a weekly list of private properties that should be mowed.

According to the city's ordinance regarding external sanitation and common nuisances, owners are required to maintain their properties and keep the growth of grass and weeds below a height of 12 inches. They are also required to remove any trash, brush and other fire hazards.

Those who fail to do so will be given a citation, which requires them to clean up their properties within 10 days. If they fail to meet the 10-day deadline, a lien will be placed against the property and the city may enter it to clean it up. The owner will then be charged 75 cents per square yard of property.

Mayor Steve Williams announced the initiative to members of City Council on Tuesday, which he said has been an effective measure since it began last year.

"Each of you are encountering this and what I find interesting is the more that we do, the more citations that we issue, the more people are responding to it saying, 'This needs to be done,'" he said.

The first eight properties notified to clean their properties are within the following areas: the 500 block Richmond Street; the 520 block of Richmond Street; the 1800 block of Charleston Avenue; the 4100 block of Altizer Avenue; the 500 block of 10th Avenue West; the 1900 block of Washington Avenue; the 400 block of 29th Street and the 1100 block of 17th Street.

"Each of you are encountering this and what I find interesting is the more that we do, the more citations that we issue, the more people are responding to it saying, 'This needs to be done.'"

Steve Williams

Huntington mayor