Monday, March 2, 2020

Last Week of Session- Where are the bills?

The General Assembly is supposed to adjourn Sine Die on Saturday. That assumes they have agreement on all conference bills, including the budget. Today is the last day of committee work this session. All remaining bills should be in the floor or in conference by tomorrow. The rules of the House and Senate require that when the budget conferees complete work on the budget, the bill must be available to members for at least 48 hours before they vote on the bill. That means we will need to see the budget conference by Thursday of this week for session to end on time. The VEA has an action alert on the budget asking members to send emails to the conferees. You can click here to send your email now. We are running out of time to make our voices heard.

Of course, the other big bill we are following is collective bargaining. The Senate will hear the House bill today in Finance and then it will go to the floor tomorrow. Bills, in general, spend three days on the floor before they are passed. The Senate can suspend the rules and move bills along more quickly, which they will need to do as the bill needs to pass and go back to the House. Once that happens, each body will ask for a conference on the bills since they deal with the same Code sections but are different in their approach. Conference is a negotiation on the final bill. There are no committee meetings or testimony in front of the conferees. The are expected to know the bills on which they are working and to have been involved in the committee hearings of the bills. Conference is one of the actions at the General Assembly that still happens under a cloak of secrecy in many ways. I will tell you that often there can be a text message sent to a lobbyist checking a detail, but in general, they work on their own. We will not likely know the outcome of the conference on collective bargaining until Friday or Saturday. Conference bills cannot be debated once they are on the floor for a final vote. They are a yes or no for passage, with conference bills overwhelmingly passing.

So, what will the conference bill include? Hard to know for sure, but I believe we will get something far more like the Senate bill than the House bill. There aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass a version that is very close to the House bill. Regardless of the final bill there are three things all VEA members should be doing to prepare:

1.       Build your membership. You will need to have at least 30% of the potential members in your school division and, if there isn’t strict guidance on the recognition of the bargaining agent, I would suggest you need 51% of the potential members.

2.       Build strong working relationships with your School Board and local governing body (Board of Supervisors or City Council). They will likely decide how collective bargaining works in your school division. We need to be talking with them and answering their questions about the process. There is a lot of work to do here.

3.       Take a good look at the elections in your locality this November. Do you have school board or local government elections? If you do, what will your local Union be doing to determine the candidate who will support collective bargaining at the local level? How will you help support their election?

We will know more very soon, but this is not the time to wait. It is the time to organize, build membership, and build your PAC. A bill won’t make collective bargaining happen, only your action will.