UPDATE The House of Delegates passed the magistrate pay raise bill 55-39. Special session on track to finish later today.
Previous It could be Friday before the state legislature wraps up a special session that began Wednesday evening.
Some Republican members of the House of Delegates wanted more time to look at a magistrate pay raise bill and voted against waiving the constitutional rule that requires a bill to be read for three days.
House Democrats then did the same thing on a $7.4 million supplemental spending bill.
The magistrate bill, which was passed by the Senate earlier Wednesday, would raise the pay for magistrates in six counties, require a study on the magistrate court system, and raise all lower level magistrate salaries to the upper level on Jan. 1, 2017.
Republicans fought a pay raise bill for magistrate earlier in the session but it eventually passed the House. The Senate didn’t deal with that bill but the House leadership continued to push for the raises and got it on the special session agenda.
“We just don’t think we should be using taxpayers’ money for public official pay raises when we had to cut 75 million dollars out of the state budget,” House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said.
The bill raises pay for magistrates and their staffs in Lewis, McDowell, Wetzel, Wyoming, Barbour and Roane counties to the upper level. Magistrate pay in West Virginia is based on population.
The National Center for State Courts will be charged with conducting a study of weighted case loads, magistrate salaries and jurisdictions. The report will be done by Dec. 2014. Lawmakers will then revisit the issue of equalization of magistrate pay in January 2017 and, possibly, make changes based on the review.
There was an extended discussion in the Senate before the bill passed Wed. Judiciary Committee Chair Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said magistrate caseloads are unequal now with the magistrates in the busiest counties averaging 3,000 cases a year and those in the bottom 10 counties averaging 700 cases a year.
“It would certainly be the expectation with passing this bill that we would get a proposal back to us, recommendations on how to spread the work out among all the magistrates around the state, to be equally disperse the work,” Palumbo said.
The bill the Democrats refused to suspend the rules on would provide $3.5 for the state’s Behavioral Health program, $500,000 each for the WVU and Marshall Pharmacy schools along with funding for affordable housing and West Virginia State University.
The main reason Democrats balked at the bill Wed. may have to do with the $1.8 million funding it provides for Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The money would pay for updated technology for his office along with a new phone system and additional personnel.
House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley tweeted after Wednesday’s floor session the bill may be in trouble now.
“Feel bad for telling AG Morrissey earlier that his bill was likely to pass. Now not so sure,” Miley said.
Floor sessions are scheduled for 11 o’clock Thursday morning in both the House and Senate.
(Photo courtesy Martin Valent/Legislative Services)