CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates this week continued its efforts to improve pay and benefits for teachers and public employees, while also reforming the state’s welfare programs to make sure that people who are physically able to work are trying to find a job.
On Tuesday, the House voted to adopt and send to Gov. Jim Justice’s desk a multi-year pay raise bill for teachers, school service personnel and State Police. The Governor signed the bill into law Wednesday.
Senate Bill 267 provides more than $119 million in pay increases to teachers, service personnel and State Police over the next three years.
All employees covered by the bill will receive an average 2-percent pay increase effective July 1, with State Police and service personnel receiving an additional 1 percent the following year and teachers receiving 1 percent raises for the following two years.
Combined with the yearly step raises built into their salary schedule, current West Virginia teachers will see their annual pay go up by at least $3,170 within three years under this bill.
Raises for state employees whose salaries are not set in code will be addressed in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget bill.
“This represents a substantial commitment to our teachers and public employees for the coming year,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. “This is the largest pay raise package our teachers and public employees have seen in decades, and is being done at a time when our budget picture still remains relatively tight.”
On Thursday, the House passed House Bill 4625 which will provide ongoing funding for the Public Employees Insurance Agency by transferring 20 percent of any surplus General Revenue dollars at the end of each fiscal year to the PEIA Stability Fund.
That fund, which helps offset increases in health care costs for public employees and retirees, was created by the Legislature in 2016 to replenish PEIA reserves that had been spent down under prior leadership earlier this decade. Had this bill previously been in place, it would have diverted more than $138 million to the PEIA program since 2010.
“This bill demonstrates our continued commitment to finding a long-term solution to funding PEIA,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha. “It gives us a dedicated, long-term funding source for PEIA, and is one more piece of the puzzle to give our teachers and state employees the best pay and benefits possible.”
Additionally, the House has passed House Bill 4620, which would immediately transfer $29 million to PEIA from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to guarantee that the current year’s PEIA plan will be frozen for another year – meaning no increases to deductibles, co-pays, premium structure and out-of-pocket expenses for the next year.
The House has also passed House Bill 4268, the Co-tenancy Modernization and Majority Protection Act, which includes a provision to divert a portion of natural gas royalty revenues from landowners who can’t be found to PEIA in future years. The House Finance Committee is also considering Senate Bill 415, which would dedicate a portion of collegiate sports wagering, should it be legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court, to the PEIA Stability Fund.
“I believe these actions represent a serious effort by the Legislature and Governor to address the needs of our teachers, school service personnel and other state employees in a fiscally responsible manner that our taxpayers can sustain,” said House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson. “It’s my hope that our schools will soon reopen so our children can return to their classrooms.”
Chairman Espinosa said one only needs to look at the state’s budget to know that education is the state’s biggest priority.
“On a percentage of income basis, West Virginia taxpayers are among the most generous in the country in terms of their investment in education, with 44 percent of our $4.2 billion General Revenue budget dedicated to public education and another 9 percent to higher education,” Chairman Espinosa said. “With it representing more than half of our General Revenue budget, there’s no question that education is the top priority in the state of West Virginia.
The House on Tuesday voted 78-19 to pass House Bill 4001, which would strengthen fraud protections and reform eligibility criteria for public assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
The bill would require the state Department of Health and Human Resources no longer ask the federal government for a waiver of public assistance work requirements implemented under President Bill Clinton’s administration.
This means that able-bodied adults between ages of 18 and 49 who do not have dependents would need to work 20 hours a week as an employee, volunteer or participant in a workforce training program, or any combination of the three.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said the goal is to make sure that people who are physically able to work are attempting to find a job.
“We do not help people by perpetuating dependence on the government,” Delegate Fast said during debate. “If you look at the definition of an able-bodied person...these are people who simply choose not to work. People must be able to help themselves – that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.
Lawmakers are facing a key legislative deadline in the coming week.
Wednesday, Feb. 28, marks the 50th day of the legislative session – a day commonly referred to as “crossover day.” Under the Legislature’s Joint Rules, this is the last day for a bill to be passed out of the house in which it was introduced.
This rule does not apply to the budget, salary or supplemental appropriations bills, which can still be advanced beyond day 50.