Hiring changes spark tiff

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s bid to rewrite teacher hiring practices has sparked an early battle as the Legislature wades through his proposed overhaul of West Virginia’s public schools.

Much of the fight revolves around seniority. Tomblin wants it placed among eight factors, including specialized training, relevant experience and academic credentials. County boards would decide which to emphasize when choosing applicants.

The bill also would allow counties to repost job openings to attract additional applicants. It calls on boards to consider what principals and faculty senates recommend, while providing a process for faculty to interview and then weigh in on candidates. Other proposed changes include scaling back seniority’s role in transfers when teaching posts are reduced within a school or a county, a process known as bumping.

Supporters include superintendents in counties both large and small, who say these provisions grant needed flexibility. Groups representing teachers have denounced them while objecting to the bulk of Tomblin’s overall legislation.

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia warned members in a bulletin last week that the proposed changes shortchange long-serving educators and “severely impair teacher bidding rights for vacancies.’’

“It takes us back to the day when hiring was very subjective, when you could hire your nephew right out of school,’’ AFT-WV President Judy Hale said.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, questioned the governor’s decision to include these provisions in his bill.

“No one has shown me how the current system doesn’t provide the most qualified teacher,’’ Lee said. “It plays to the misconception out there that seniority is the deciding factor, and it’s not.’’

County boards are now supposed to give equal weight to seniority and six other factors when applicants include current educators.

But state law also requires a written explanation when a candidate with the most seniority isn’t picked, if that candidate requests one. Tomblin’s bill removes that language.

Democrats target Morrisey’s pick

In a sign that partisan tensions may be ratcheting up, 11 Democrats in the West Virginia House have introduced a bill highlighting a hiring snafu of Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

The bill introduced Friday would require that all state government attorneys that make more than $100,000 have a license to practice law in the state when they are hired.

The bill targets the controversy surrounding Morrisey aide Elbert Lin who was initially hired as solicitor general. Lin has practiced law in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., but is not expected to have a West Virginia law license for several months. Lin makes $130,000. Lin is very well credentialed, having clerked for Clarence Thomas in the U.S. Supreme Court and worked for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Morrisey said Lin took a significant pay cut to join the Attorney General’s office.

The bill’s sponsors said that Morrisey’s hiring practices run contrary to the themes of fiscal responsibility that he campaigned on. Morrisey called the bill shameful partisan politics.

Gun manufacturer eyed

A gun control measure moving through Maryland’s Legislature has West Virginia lawmakers inviting a major firearms maker to cross the border.

House Speaker Rick Thompson wrote Beretta USA on Thursday. The Wayne County Democrat asked the company to consider relocating all or some of its Maryland operations to West Virginia.

Thompson sent the letter the same day the Maryland Senate passed a bill that includes an assault weapons ban. It would allow companies like Beretta to continue making banned weapons in that state, but they could only be sold outside Maryland.

Pipeline fines could grow

Fines would soar for safety violations involving nearly three-fourths of West Virginia’s natural gas pipelines under legislation approved 91-7 Thursday by the House of Delegates.

The measure passed to the Senate follows the inferno triggered in December when a gas line ruptured in Sissonville. No one was killed, but the resulting fire destroyed four homes and a section of Interstate 77.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulates that and other interstate transmission lines, according to officials with the Public Service Commission. The federal agency routinely enlists the commission to help it oversee around 3,600 miles of interstate lines than cross into West Virginia. But Thursday’s bill would increase fines levied by the commission that apply to another 11,100 or so miles of pipeline that run within the state’s borders.

Those intrastate lines mostly deliver gas to customers, but also include nearly 300 miles of high-strength pipeline that transmit processed gas to distribution points.

Proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the measure would hike fines per violation from $1,000 to $200,000 per violation. The maximum penalty would rise from $200,000 to $2 million. Industry officials say the increases put the commission’s fines on par with federal penalties. Commission officials said that should trigger additional federal funding for the state agency, which regulates utilities and the rates they charge.

Nursing home bill set for vote

The West Virginia Senate is set to vote on a bill limiting the liability that nursing homes can face in potential lawsuits.

The bill would explicitly apply the state’s Medical Professional Liability Act to nursing homes. That 2003 law sets a $500,000 limit on the amount of non-economic damages that medical providers can be held liable for. The bill also states that the legislature always intended for that law to cover nursing homes.

In 2011 a jury found a Charleston nursing home liable for $91 million in damages for the death of an 87-year old woman. The jury found that nursing homes were not always covered under the state’s medical liability protections.

The bill unanimously passed out of committee Thursday. The Senate is expected to vote on it next week.

– The Associated Press

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