CHARLESTON — West Virginia Senate Republicans added a measure to ban teacher strikes to their sweeping education proposal Sunday, a move criticized as revenge for high-profile walkouts by educators this year and last.
Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber approved the amendment 17-14 with heavy opposition from Democrats, tacking it on to a broad-based bill that would allow the state's first charter schools.
Republican Sen. Charles Trump sponsored the amendment and said it's meant to keep schools running. He said existing state law forbids strikes by public employees and that it's not meant as retaliation for past teacher strikes.
``This is designed to help the children by making sure they will be in school when they should be in school,'' Trump said.
The measure would deem a work stoppage as grounds for termination by a county board and would allow the boards to withhold the pay of striking employees.
Democrats argued that teachers have the Constitutional right to protest.
``The Constitutional question is this: Do you have the right to petition, do you have the right to organize? Does that trump state law,'' Senate Democratic Minority Leader Roman Prezioso said.
Fred Albert, president of West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said the move is clearly retribution for previous strikes.
The wide-ranging Republican education plan also would give teachers a pay raise and provide mental health services for students. The GOP is also pushing a separate bill to allow school vouchers called education saving accounts. Both proposals have been strongly opposed by Democrats and teachers unions.
Gov. Jim Justice told reporters Sunday that it would be better for the GOP proposal to be split up into separate bills.
``I think that breaking the bills down to where people really understand exactly what we're voting for, and everything else, to me, would be much, much more preferable,'' he said.
Teachers in West Virginia took to the picket line in February over a similar, complex education bill that tied their pay raise in with charters and education vouchers.
Educators protested outside schools and packed the state Capitol during the two-day walkout. They argued that the bill was retaliation for last year's nine-day strike over pay raises and health insurance, which kicked off a national wave of teacher unrest.