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Teachers rally at West Virginia Capitol over pay, health insurance

Teachers crowd into West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice's office at the West Virginia Capitol Friday to protest pay and health insurance. (WCHS/WVAH)

Toting signs with messages that included “Insurance should not cost a living wage” and “My seniority matters,” West Virginia teachers packed into Gov. Jim Justice’s office at the West Virginia Capitol Friday to protest pay and health care issues.

School districts in three counties – Mingo, Logan and Wyoming – are closed Friday because of teacher walkouts. In Kanawha County, teachers at several schools did “walk-ins,” protesting by handing out information to parents during drop-offs and then returning to their buildings once classes started.

Teachers are upset about Public Employees Insurance Agency changes, along with the 1 percent raise West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has proposed. On Friday, the West Virginia Senate OK'd that pay hike that would give teachers about $400 annually over five years. An amendment that would have provided bigger raises failed in the Senate on Thursday. The bill passed by the Senate now goes to the House.

Justice has tried to quell some of the anger teachers have about health insurance.

The PEIA’s Go365 plan is one of many reasons teachers and state workers have been rallying against PEIA. Set to go into effect in July 2018, the program will help decide premium and deductible amounts and, some employees say, will ask personal questions about your health and doctor's appointments.

In response, the governor said the Go365 program will be 100 percent voluntary with no penalties. He said PEIA can remove the proposed $25 a month penalty with minimal financial impact to the plan.

Justice said he has also asked the state Public Employees Insurance Agency to consider changing its policy to reduce premiums for all families who have dual state incomes, including teachers.

Under the proposal, families with more than one state employee would take their combined state income and divide it in half. This pertains particularly to 5,120 state employees. The result would be a tier reclassification and premium reduction for those families, the governor said.

The governor said the PEIA finance board will conduct public hearings later this month on the proposal.

Justice had scheduled a news conference for Friday morning to talk about public education issues, but he canceled the news conference.

The AP contributed to this report.

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