U.S. House to vote to reinstate net neutrality rules in April

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives will vote in April on a bill to reinstate landmark net neutrality rules repealed by the Federal Communications Commission under U.S. President Donald Trump.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a letter to colleagues on Thursday seen by Reuters that lawmakers will vote on the bill dubbed the “Save the Internet Act” during the week of April 8.

The bill mirrors an effort last year to reverse the FCC’s December 2017 order that repealed rules approved in 2015 that barred providers from blocking or slowing internet content or offering paid “fast lanes.”

The reversal of net neutrality rules was a win for internet providers like Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc, but opposed by content and social media companies like Facebook Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc.

The bill would repeal the order introduced by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, bar the FCC from reinstating it or substantially similar order and reinstate the 2015 net neutrality order. Republicans oppose reinstating the 2015 rules that grant the FCC sweeping authority to oversee the conduct of internet providers.

The Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, voted in May 2018 to reinstate the rules, but the House did not take up the issue before Congress adjourned last year. The White House opposes reinstating the net neutrality rules and it is not clear that proponents will be able to force a vote in the Senate.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown)

Senate votes to terminate Trump national emergency

U.S. President Donald Trump walks down the U.S Capitol steps with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) after they both attended the 37th annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday joined the House of Representatives in passing legislation that would defy President Donald Trump by terminating the national emergency on the southern border that he declared on Feb. 15.

Trump has vowed a veto – an act he has not yet taken as president. But enough Republicans in Congress are expected to block any veto override attempt. A two-thirds vote of the House and Senate are needed overturn a presidential veto.

The Senate voted 59-41 to end the emergency.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Lambert)

Trump pushes border wall fight ahead of State of the Union speech

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting to "discuss fighting human trafficking on the southern border" in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday was set to deliver a State of the Union speech challenging Democrats to approve funding for his long-sought border wall, but stopping short of declaring a national emergency over it, at least for now.

At 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT Wednesday) before a joint session of Congress, Trump likely will stir contention with remarks on immigration policy, after his demand for $5.7 billion in wall funds triggered a historic 35-day partial government shutdown that more than half of Americans blamed him for, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

Millions of Americans were expected to watch the address on television, giving the Republican president his biggest opportunity to date to explain why he believes a barrier is needed on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. The speech was delayed for a week because of the shutdown, which ended on Jan. 25.

When Trump takes center stage in the chamber of the House of Representatives for the big speech, sitting behind him over his shoulder will be his main congressional adversary, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who became House speaker after her party won control of the chamber in November’s elections.

She has shown no sign of budging from her opposition to Trump’s wall-funding demand. That has led Trump to contemplate declaring a national emergency, which he says would let him reallocate funding from elsewhere without congressional action.

A source close to Trump said the president was not expected to take that step, which likely would draw a swift court challenge from Democrats. Instead he will urge a congressional committee to work out a border security deal by Feb. 15.

“He’s going to set the stage,” the source said. “He’ll tell people, ‘Here’s why I should,’ but say, ‘I’m giving Congress another chance to act.'”

Trump continued to push his wall in a Tuesday morning tweet ahead of his evening remarks, noting that the Pentagon has sent more troops to the U.S. southern border.

“We will build a Human Wall if necessary,” he said.

WANTS DEAL FROM CONGRESS

Asked on Tuesday if Trump would use the speech to announce an emergency, White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said the president “has an absolute right to do it” but would prefer that lawmakers forge a solution.

“He wants Congress to finish its work and hopefully come to an agreement, put a deal on his desk that he will sign into law,” Conway told reporters at the White House.

Trump’s speech also will offer an olive branch to opponents as he looks toward the 2020 election, targeting areas he sees for potential bipartisan agreement, such as infrastructure improvements, lowering prescription drug costs and healthcare.

A senior administration official said Trump would “encourage Congress to reject the politics of resistance and retribution, and instead adopt a spirit of cooperation and compromise so we can achieve it.”

Senator Angus King, an independent, on Tuesday told MSNBC he saw potential for bipartisan action over opioids, HIV and infrastructure that could be derailed “if he throws down the gauntlet and gives us another lecture on the wall.”

Trump’s message could also be undermined by his threats to go his own way on the long-promised wall if he cannot get Congress to approve the funding he wants. He has said the wall, which he promised during his 2016 campaign and said Mexico would pay for, is needed to deter illegal immigration and drugs.

Some of Trump’s own fellow conservatives are also urging Trump not to declare an emergency. “I’m for whatever works that prevents the level of dysfunction we’ve seen on full display here the last month, and also doesn’t bring about a view on the president’s part that he needs to declare a national emergency,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters last week.

OTHER TOPICS

Trump also will address foreign policy, including support for an effort to coax Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro into leaving power and declaring the Islamic State militant group all but defeated. He will also give an update on trade talks with the Chinese.

Asked if he would announce where he will next meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders declined to give any details in an interview with Fox News Tuesday morning.

Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney went over the speech on Monday night with about a dozen supporters including former campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, as well as Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, a source familiar with the meeting said.

The source said Trump would discuss troop drawdowns in Syria and Afghanistan and that about half the speech would be devoted to foreign policy.

Trump also will claim success on economic policy, including cutting federal regulations, the source said.

Some Democrats have invited guests to the speech to highlight various causes, some at odds with Trump’s policies, making a raucous atmosphere possible inside the House chamber.

Representative Pramila Jayapal said on Monday she would invite climate scientist Lisa Graumlich, dean of the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, to underscore the climate change issue.

“One thing you will see is that the chamber is full and the president is surrounded by women, by people of color, by individuals who have really been hurt by this president and many of the actions that he has taken,” Jayapal said.

Republican strategist and former White House official Raj Shah said the speech offered Trump a chance to turn the page.

“Washington right now looks a little bit petty and a little bit small and the State of the Union is an opportunity to go big and talk in broad themes about what’s good about America and look beyond some of the issues of the last few weeks,” he said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

Congress negotiators struggle to reach border security deal

FILE PHOTO: Construction on the border wall with Mexico (top) is shown in New Mexico near Sunland Park, New Mexico, U.S. June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With little time remaining, congressional negotiators on U.S. border security funding have not settled the hot-button issues they hope to resolve, as some liberal Democrats potentially complicated their work by pressing for cuts in homeland security spending.

Congressional aides on Monday said that while constructive negotiations were held by staffers over the past weekend, it is now up to the lawmakers themselves to tackle the thorniest disagreements before a Feb. 15 deadline.

Seventeen Republican and Democratic members of the Senate and House of Representatives are tasked with finding a compromise border security deal with the allocation of Department of Homeland Security funds through Sept. 30.

The toughest unresolved disputes include the type of new physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, if any, as President Donald Trump demands $5.7 billion for a wall that most Democrats and many Republicans oppose as wasteful and ineffective.

Other difficult questions, according to the aides, including whether to increase or cut funds for immigrant detention beds and the numbers of immigration law-enforcement agents and immigration judges.

Democrats had been backing legislation providing up to $1.6 billion for additional fencing on some parts of the southwestern border, far below Trump’s request for a wall that he originally envisioned as a 2,000 mile (3,200 km) concrete barrier.

But new fencing money was not included in an initial proposal Democrats sketched out last week, which did, however, call for a $589 million increase in DHS’s budget.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters she agreed with sentiments expressed in a letter circulated by four members of that group, which seeks Department of Homeland Security funding cuts.

Dated Jan. 29, the letter said the Trump administration had “abused their authority and the fidelity of public resources,” with initiatives that included separating immigrant children from their families. One of the signatories was Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, part of a new crop of Democrats swept into office this year on a strong liberal platform.

Trump has argued that additional DHS funding was necessary to stop illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants, touting a massive wall as the linchpin.

He has threatened to either let several federal agencies shut down for the second time this year if no deal is reached, or declare a “national emergency” that he says would allow him to build the wall with already-appropriated funds not necessarily related directly to border security.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Top Trump aide says government shutdown may go into New Year

FILE PHOTO: White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks about of U.S. President Donald Trump's budget in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s budget director and chief of staff on Sunday said the partial U.S. government shutdown could continue to Jan. 3, when the new Congress convenes and Democrats take over the House of Representatives.

“It’s very possible this shutdown will go beyond (December) the 28th and into the new Congress,” Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday.

“I don’t think things are going to move very quickly here for the next few days” because of the Christmas holiday, added Mulvaney, who serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget and was named acting White House chief of staff 10 days ago.

The U.S. Senate adjourned on Saturday, unable to break an impasse over Trump’s demand for more funds for a wall on the border with Mexico that Democrats are unwilling to accept.

Mulvaney said the White House made a “counter-offer” to Democrats on funding for border security that fell between the Democratic offer of $1.3 billion and Trump’s demand for $5 billion.

As part of those talks on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence offered to drop the demand for $5 billion for a border wall, substituting instead $2.1 billion, ABC News reported, citing unnamed sources.

A Democratic source familiar with the negotiations said real discussions have been happening between Democratic lawmakers and Republican Senator Richard Shelby, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who has been talking to the White House. It was unclear what Democrats had offered.

Mulvaney sought to shift blame for the partial shutdown to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic nominee for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, saying she might hold up negotiations to ensure she secures the position.

“I think she’s in that unfortunate position of being beholden to her left wing to where she cannot be seen as agreeing with the president on anything until after she is speaker,” Mulvaney said. ”If that’s the case, again, there’s a chance we go into the next Congress.”  

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill disputed that account, saying in a statement: “As Mr. Mulvaney well knows, House Democrats are united in their opposition to the President’s immoral, expensive and ineffective wall.”

The White House should “stop the posturing and start serious bipartisan talks,” Hammill said.

Financing for about a quarter of federal government programs – including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Agriculture – expired at midnight on Friday. More than 400,000 “essential” employees in those agencies will work without pay until the dispute is resolved. Another 380,000 will be “furloughed,” meaning they are put on temporary leave.

Law enforcement efforts, border patrols, mail delivery and airport operations will keep running.

Building a wall to try to prevent migrants from entering the United States illegally was a central plank of Trump’s presidential campaign, but Democrats are vehemently opposed and have rejected his funding request.

Trump reiterated his push for border security on Sunday, saying on Twitter that “the only way” to stop drugs, gangs, and human trafficking at the border was with a wall or barrier.

“Drones and all of the rest are wonderful and lots of fun, but it is only a good old fashioned Wall that works!,” the president said in the tweet.

Earlier in the week, leaders in both the Senate and House thought they had reached a deal that Trump would sign that contained less money for border security, only to watch the president, under pressure from conservatives, re-assert his demand for $5 billion at the last minute.

Senator David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia on the Senate Banking Committee, said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that he thought a deal this week was possible.

“I spoke to the president last night, he wants that,” Purdue said, adding: “I’m hopeful that cooler heads will prevail and we’ll get to some number between $1.6 (billion) and $5 billion on that.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Mary Milliken, Daniel Wallis and Rosalba O’Brien)

Republicans set resolution blaming Saudi prince for journalist’s death

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pictured during his meeting with Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and officials in Algiers, Algeria December 2, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he would introduce on Thursday legislation holding Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and insisting on accountability for those responsible for his death.

Despite President Donald Trump’s desire to maintain close relations with Saudi Arabia, the joint resolution is backed by at least nine of his fellow Republicans in the Senate: committee Chairman Bob Corker and co-sponsors including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The measure also warns that the kingdom’s purchases of military equipment from, and cooperation with, the governments of Russia and China challenge the integrity of the U.S.-Saudi military relationship.

The measure is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate, but must also pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump, or win enough votes to overcome a veto, to take effect.

House Republican leaders declined to say whether they planned to vote on any Saudi-related legislation before Congress wraps up for the year later this month.

Among other provisions, the joint resolution blames the crown prince for Khashoggi’s murder in Turkey, calls for the Saudi government to ensure “appropriate accountability” for all those responsible for his death, calls on Riyadh to release Saudi women’s rights activists and encourages the kingdom to increase efforts to enact economic and social reforms.

And it declares that there is no statutory authorization for U.S. involvement in hostilities in Yemen’s civil war and supports the end of air-to-air refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft operating in Yemen.

The Senate is due to vote later on Thursday on a separate Saudi Arabia measure, a war powers resolution that would end all U.S. involvement with the coalition involved in the Yemen War. That measure would need to pass the House and survive a threatened Trump veto to become law.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump backs down, signs order to end family separations at U.S. border

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order on immigration policy in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump backed down on Wednesday on an immigration policy that sparked outrage at home and abroad, signing an executive order to end the separation of children from their parents when immigrant families are caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The order requires that immigrant families be detained together when they are caught entering the country illegally, although it was not immediately clear for how long.

It also moves parents with children to the front of the line for immigration proceedings. The order does not end a “zero tolerance” policy that calls for criminal prosecution of immigrants crossing the border illegally.

“It’s about keeping families together while at the same time making sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border,” Trump said as he signed the order in a hastily arranged Oval Office gathering.

Videos of youngsters in cages and an audiotape of wailing children had sparked anger in the United States from groups ranging from clergy to influential business leaders, as well as condemnation from abroad, including Pope Francis.

Trump, a frequent viewer of cable television newscasts, had recognized the family separation issue was a growing political problem, White House sources said. First lady Melania Trump, in private conversations with the president, urged him to do something, a White House official said.

“The first lady has been making her opinion known to the president for some time now, which was that he needed to do all he could to help families stay together,” an official said.

Wednesday’s move marked a rare instance since Trump took office in January 2017 in which he has changed course on a controversial policy, rather than digging in.

Trump has made a tough stance on immigration central to his presidency. In recent days, the Republican president had insisted his hands were tied by law on the issue of family separations and had sought to blame Democrats, although it was his administration that implemented the policy of strict adherence to immigration law.

The Republican-controlled U.S. Congress is also considering legislation to address the issue. The House of Representatives planned to vote on Thursday on two bills designed to halt the practice of separating families and to address other immigration issues.

But Republicans said they were uncertain if either measure would have enough support to be approved. Trump told House Republicans on Tuesday night he would support either of the immigration bills under consideration but did not give a preference.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell, Amanda Becker and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Bill Trott and Frances Kerry)

U.S. ‘net neutrality’ rules will end on June 11 -FCC

FILE PHOTO: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) logo is seen before the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington, U.S., February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission said in a notice on Thursday that landmark 2015 U.S. open-internet rules will cease on June 11, and new rules handing providers power over what content consumers can access will take effect.

The FCC in December repealed the Obama-era “net neutrality” rules, allowing internet providers to block or slow websites as long as they disclose the practice. The FCC said the new rules will take effect on June 11.

A group of states and others have sued to try to block the new rules from taking effect. The revised rules were a win for internet service providers like AT&T  and Comcast Corp & CMCSA but are opposed by internet firms like Facebook Inc  and Alphabet Inc.

“The agency failed to listen to the American public and gave short shrift to their deeply held belief that internet openness should remain the law of the land,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said Thursday. “The FCC is on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American people.”

The U.S. Senate is set to vote as early as next week on whether to reject the FCC repeal of the net neutrality rules – but that effort faces an uphill battle.

Proponents currently have the backing of 47 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats, as well as Republican Senator Susan Collins. With the prolonged absence of Republican Senator John McCain due to illness, proponents believe they will win on a 50-49 vote.

Senator Ed Markey said it was “likely” the vote will take place in the middle of next week. On Wednesday, senators officially filed a petition to force a net neutrality vote and 10 hours of floor debate under the Congressional Review Act.

Following the FCC announcement, Markey wrote on Twitter, “the Senate must act NOW and pass my resolution to save the internet as we know it.”

The FCC voted 3-2 to reverse Obama-era rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain online content.

Once they take effect, the new FCC rules would give internet service providers sweeping powers to change how consumers access the internet but include new transparency requirements that require them to disclose any changes to consumers.

If the Senate approves the measure, it would not likely pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. If the legislation were to pass the House, President Donald Trump would be expected to veto it.

In February, a coalition of 22 state attorneys general refiled legal challenges intended to block the Trump administration’s repeal of net neutrality.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has often said he is confident the agency’s order will be upheld.

Democrats have said they believe the issue would be key in November’s midterm congressional elections, especially among younger internet-savvy voters.

Republicans have said the FCC repeal would eliminate heavy-handed government regulations, encourage investment and return the internet to pre-2015 rules.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

After walkouts, U.S. teachers eye elections for school funding gains

FILE PHOTO: Teachers rally outside the state Capitol on the second day of a teacher walkout to demand higher pay and more funding for education in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

By Heide Brandes and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

OKLAHOMA CITY/TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) – High school physics teacher Craig Hoxie filed to run for Oklahoma’s House of Representatives on Friday, a day after the end of a two-week teacher walkout that had pressed lawmakers for school funding.

“A week ago, I would have told you I wasn’t going to do it,” said the 48-year-old Army veteran who has worked in public schools for 18 years, as he drove to the state election board office to submit his paperwork to become a Democratic candidate in this fall’s election. “There is a funding crisis with all public services in our state.”

Teachers and parents in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona have staged collective actions in recent weeks, seeking higher wages and education spending. They say years of budget reductions have decimated public school systems in favor of tax cuts.

Protests in those Republican-dominated states have encouraged teachers unions and Democratic candidates who will try to capitalize on the outrage to score electoral victories. In November’s mid-term elections, 36 governorships and thousands of state legislative seats will be up for grabs.

“This transcends what has traditionally been viewed as blue states and red states,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which boasts 1.7 million members. “The deprivation has gotten so great that people are taking the risk to escalate their activism.”

The union, typically aligned with the Democratic Party, has targeted a number of key states with plans to mobilize in statehouse, gubernatorial and congressional elections this fall.

Nationwide, progressive causes have seen a surge of enthusiasm since Republican President Donald Trump’s election. Protesters have rallied on issues as wide ranging as gun control, gender equality, science and immigrants’ rights.

The Oklahoma walkout demonstrated the power of collective action to influence Republican lawmakers, as well as its limits. The legislature boosted annual education funding by about $450 million and raised teacher pay by an average of about $6,100, yet those figures remained short of the teachers’ demands.

The state’s largest union, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), declared victory and turned its attention to the fall elections to continue the fight for more funding. At least a dozen Oklahoma teachers are seeking office.

In remarks to the Tulsa County Democratic Party on Friday, OEA President Alicia Priest said local union chapters would form election committees to support pro-education candidates, while members will go door-to-door.

“We have to change and try something different,” she said of teachers choosing to run for office themselves.

Several Republican incumbents facing challenges from teacher candidates did not respond to calls for comment.

Sheri Guyse, 42, a parent with two children in Oklahoma public schools who participated in the walkout, pledged that come November, she would remember whose side lawmakers were on.

“A few of their demands were met, and of course that’s a step in the right direction, but the only thing I’m feeling really good about today is that there’s a big election in November where a lot of these legislators will lose their jobs,” she said.

A number of teachers have already won special legislative elections as Democrats in the last two years. Karen Gaddis, a retired teacher who ran on a largely pro-education platform, captured a seat near Tulsa that had been in Republican hands for more than 20 years.

“Things have gotten so bad out here, we’re like a third-world country,”” Gaddis said in a phone interview. She first ran and lost in 2016, but said she has sensed a shift this year as people have grown fed up with budget cuts.

“Education in particular was just being flushed down the toilet,” she said.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on statehouse races nationwide, said more than 50 educators are running in other states. The group said the 26 states in which Republicans control both the legislature and the governorship have seen an average 5 percent cut in education spending over the last decade.

In response, David James, a spokesman for the Republican State Leadership Committee, which supports that party in statehouse races, said, “It is sad and appalling for the Democrats to be coordinating a national protest effort with their longtime faculty room friends in the teachers unions to push a political agenda in the classroom, at the expense of the nation’s students.”

John Waldron, a social studies teacher, ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in Oklahoma in 2016. He is running again as a Democrat in 2018, this time for the state House of Representatives, and said the walkout gives him confidence this campaign will unfold differently.

“We’ve turned a whole generation of Oklahomans into political activists now,” he said.

(Reporting by Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa; Writing and additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)

Oklahoma House approves education tax bill amid teacher walkout

A teacher stands next to a music stand holding a sign during a school walkout in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S. April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) – The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a $20 million internet sales tax on Wednesday as part of a revenue package aimed at ending a statewide walkout by teachers seeking higher pay and more education funding.

The walkout, now in its third day, is the latest upheaval by teachers in a Republican-dominated state after a successful West Virginia strike last month ended with a pay raise. More than 100 school districts in Oklahoma will remain shuttered on Thursday.

Lawmakers approved the tax measure as hundreds of teachers, parents and students packed the Capitol in Oklahoma City to press for a $200 million package to raise education spending in Oklahoma, which ranks near the bottom for U.S. states.

“This is a win for students and educators and signals major progress toward funding the schools our students deserve,” Alicia Priest, head of the Oklahoma Education Association, the teachers union, said in a statement after 92 lawmakers approved the sales tax measure.

Across the state, protests were held near schools and along streets, with demonstrators holding signs bearing slogans such as “35 is a speed limit, not a class size.”

The tax bill requires third-party vendors on internet sites such as Amazon to remit state sales taxes on purchases made by residents.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers on Thursday will weigh a measure expanding gaming at Native American casinos as part of the $200 million package. Lawmakers are also weighing such options as repealing exemptions for capital gains taxes.

The teachers’ protests reflect rising discontent after years of sluggish or declining public school spending in Oklahoma, which ranked 47th among the 50 states in per-student expenditure in 2016, according to the National Education Association.

Kentucky teachers also have demonstrated against stagnant or reduced budgets by a Republican-controlled legislature. Arizona educators have threatened similar job actions.

“My books were old when I was in high school more than 15 years ago and chances are a lot of them are still being used today,” Oklahoma City resident Ashley Morris said by telephone from a statehouse rally.

“Students just aren’t getting what they need or deserve and that puts teachers in a tough situation,” said Morris, whose roommate is a first-grade teacher who relies on a second job to make ends meet.

(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Ben Klayman and Leslie Adler)