The House has approved a bill to exempt most school districts in the state from prevailing wage law.
Backers of the bill say many schools, particularly in rural parts of the state, have to put off construction and maintenance projects or leave them undone because they can’t afford to pay wages at the prevailing level.
The sponsor, Representative Casey Guernsey (R-Bethany), says schools are having to pay significantly more for the same work that costs private businesses much less. He says this change will let projects proceed that have been put off or gone undone.
“In my previous district and my current district I have and currently represent a little over 30 school districts. Every single one of them have a major project that it is imperative we allow them to solve.”
Representative Mike Lair (R-Chillicothe) says to him the proposal is not a labor bill but an education bill. He says it would free up more money in school districts that right now has to go to construction projects.
“Every dollar not used to fund that teacher in the classroom is a wasted dollar. We need to make sure the money that our taxpayers use that goes to education is used most profitably for the teacher, for the children.”
Democrats like Representative Michael Frame (D-Eureka) say the legislation is about labor and wages.
“I’ve heard it admitted on this House floor that if this legislation is successful, wages will be cut.”
Representative Mike Colona (D-St. Louis City) tells proponents their bill will hurt workers.
“You’re also going to have to go back to your constituents and say, ‘Hey, I cut your pay. You’re making less money, and in fact … that bus coming up from Texas? Those folks are going to be doing your jobs. So not only did I cut your pay, but you’re going to be out of a job.”
The bill exempts school districts in counties that do not have a charter form of government from prevailing wage requirements.
It now goes to the Senate.