Thursday, March 28, 2019

Governor Takes Action on School Counselor Legislation and It's Complicated

So the Governor has taken action on the two school counselor SOQ bills that passed this session and WOW is it complicated. It's a brilliant political move and very savvy. The VEA is very supportive of the recommendations and the maneuver that will make sure that the General Assembly does not use budget language to set staffing standards and that there will actual structural changes in the law that will increase state support for more school counselors in all our schools.

This session the Governor's proposals that he announced in December became a Senate bill carried by Senator Dance, and an identical House bill carried by Delegate McQuinn. In the end, the General Assembly passed the Senate bill (without really realizing that action would require a $36 million investment they weren't prepared to spend). Once the Senate realized the issue, they made all sorts of changes to McQuinn's bill and also includesd budget language that attempted to invalidate Dance's bill. SO the Governor had two bill, enactment clauses that were added to McQuinn's bill, and budget language to consider to get to his goal of improving the staffing ratios for school counselors in the Code which forces the state to fund those new ratios.

The General Assembly will take up the Governor's recommendations next Wednesday during the Reconvened Session.

Since the primary goal is to make sure the SOQ was updated, the simplest way to do that is to just sign the Senate bill, as it passed with the ratios the Governor proposed. The Governor has signed that bill. So, with no action needed during the reconvened session, the Senate bill will become law. Legislators can't mess it up. It also forces them to do something on the House bill since the Senate bill costs $36 million and they only allocated $12. So that bill is the safety net bill.

The second bill to be signed "trumps" the first. So the House bill (McQuinn's) amendment allows the state to maintain the $12 million allocated in the budget but forces them to implement and fund the Governor's proposal in  2020-21.  If they do not agree to the Governor on these amendments, the Rs will be blamed for implementing SOQ ratios through budget language which is a terrible precedent. If they accept the McQuinn amendments, that bill becomes the law and there will be a requirement to fund those ratios in 2020-21. BUT, the Governor did not address the budget language that was added to fund the smaller ratio changes, so that will remain. If they accept the amendments on McQuinn's the budget language, along with the $12 million allocation will remain for the 2019-2020 school year. We would then expect the biennial budget to include the additional $24 million to cover the broader ratios in the bill.

It is a check mate basically since the Senate bill will become the law of the land on July 1 unless they pass McQuinn's bill to trump it. In order to pass McQuinn's bill, they need to accept the Governor's amendments or they put themselves in a really bad spot politically.

It is very, very complicated since there were 2 bill, enactment clauses, and budget language. But this is the cool maneuvering that make my job so much fun.