CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Legislators have agreed the state Senate will get first crack at education and prison reform as the House tackles the budget and other financial issues.
A Kanawha County member of the Senate thinks that is the best hope for education reform.
"The Senate will clearly send a stronger bill to the House than the House would send to the Senate," Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha and vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said Thursday.
In an earlier interview Wells had bemoaned the leadership of the House Education Committee. He said the composition of the committee doesn't matter, because Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, is still in charge.
The actions of the Senate Education Committee, unlike Poling's committee, traditionally haven't been dictated by the whims of teachers unions, in Wells' opinion.
"The Senate has been the leader on education reform in West Virginia. It should start here; we should take a lead role," Wells said.
"The Senate clearly has been the body that has been more willing to take a hard look at reforms that are needed. Regardless of what the pressure may be from . . . the AFT or WVEA, we have done that," he said.
However, lawmakers won't be able to work on some of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's highly anticipated bills on such major issues until next week.
House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, said Thursday he and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, met Tuesday with heads of various committees to divvy up the governor's measures between the two chambers.
This session is the House's turn to start on the budget, so it will focus primarily on the governor's bills that might be affected by that budget, Thompson said.
The Senate, meanwhile, will work on education and prison reform.
Kessler spokeswoman Lynette Maselli said late Thursday the governor's education reform package was on track to appear in the Senate Monday.
Thompson and Kessler both said deciding the starting location of each bill is simply about dividing the workload.
"The pundits are probably reading a lot more into where bills start than goes into it," Kessler said Thursday after the floor session.
The starting location of a measure can play a role in whether it's even discussed. Approval by both houses is required to send any bill to the governor's desk, but either chamber can choose whether that bill ever comes up for consideration.
The governor's bills are typically introduced in both the House and Senate, prefaced with the phrase "at the request of the executive." Only one chamber is working to pass any of those bills at any given time, Thompson said.