CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Following the 2012 general election, Republicans were optimistic their significant gains in the House of Delegates would give them more influence in reforming the state's education system.
Even with 46 of the 100 seats in the House, though, the party couldn't muster enough support to pass any of the five amendments to the governor's education bill GOP delegates suggested Thursday.
But the defeat of those amendments shouldn't indicate a lack of power by House Republicans, said Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.
"These were not caucus amendments, these were amendments by members of the caucus," Armstead said Thursday from the House floor.
The GOP discussed the amendments Wednesday night in caucus. Like always, Armstead said members were told to "vote with your conscience" and not necessarily with other Republicans.
Of the five, Armstead's came the closest to passing. He proposed including a stipulation that the state Department of Education could not have more than one administrator for every 2,000 students. It failed 52 to 44, with four members absent.
Of the remaining four amendments, none received more than 26 votes. The suggestion from Minority Whip Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, to allow a charter school system in the state received the least amount of support, 18 votes.
Many Democrats blasted GOP members for proposing large changes from the House floor. Delegate Kevin Craig, D-Cabell, asked why the GOP was trying to make changes so late when there were so many people in support of the bill.
Speaker Pro Tempore Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, said Cowles' amendment came across as though its supporters were ready to give up on the current education system.
"If all of these amendment ideas were such great ideas, then why in the committee process did they not raise one amendment?" said Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha. "Why didn't they say, 'Hold on a second, this is what we want to do?' "
There are 13 Democrats and 11 Republicans on the House Education Committee. The committee passed the bill Tuesday after less than two hours of discussion, with no changes proposed.
All five of the amendments proposed Thursday came from Republicans not on the committee, though, Armstead argued. Every delegate has the right to propose amendments during the second stage of passing a bill, so to question that right is "insulting," he said.
Delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia, is the minority chairwoman of the House Education Committee. She said she supported only one of the amendments presented Thursday and was happy with the bill produced in the Senate. But she understands why the proposed changes came up on the House floor and not in her committee.
"Personally, I agreed with them not being made in committee. I think them being made today on the House floor and giving us a little more time to digest the bill was probably the best decision for us to make," Pasdon said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education bill was ripped apart in the Senate for two weeks, with closed-door deliberations involving the governor's staff, teachers unions, education officials and leadership from both chambers. The Senate passed a measure Monday that was commonly referred to as an "agreed to" bill: All stakeholders could live with its contents.