The state legislature completed its work Thursday in a special session called by the governor one day earlier.
The House of Delegates agreed to waive the constitutional rule and pass a magistrate pay raise bill, spending bill and a state Tax Dept. supported bill in less than one hour.
The most discussion came on the magistrate pay raise bill that will increase the salaries for magistrates in six counties to the upper level pay that magistrates in larger counties receive, approximately $57,000. The bill also calls for a study of the entire system by an outside group that will give recommendations on whether changes should be made.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, D-Kanawha, voted against the bill calling it premature. He says some magistrates shouldn’t be given raises before the study is done.
The bill also says all lower-tier magistrates will receive the higher-tier pay beginning in 2017.
House Majority Leader Brent Boggs says magistrates in four of the six counties lost pay beginning this year because their counties lost population. The bill restores those salaries. He says the study will be beneficial for future moves.
“So we can act accordingly and look at how we can redistribute and help the entire system be more efficient and more accountable budgetarily to our taxpayers,” Boggs said.
Armstead maintains in a tight budget year the state shouldn’t be giving raises to elected officials.
“We’re cutting 75 million dollars out of our budget as we speak,” he said. “We didn’t give teachers a raise. We didn’t give other state employees a raise, retirees a raise.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Miley told fellow House members they can expect to make what could be tough decisions in the future about the distribution of magistrates.
“I would hope that this body no matter what those recommendations are and whose counties they affect will implement them,” Miley said. “The National Center for State Courts is considered the non-partisan experts in this area.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin says he’s looking forward to the study results, which are due Dec. 2014.
“Rather than keeping every magistrate (in each county) and adding new ones over the years, we’ll be able to shift the service area a magistrate serves in,” Tomblin said.
State lawmakers needed 65 days to complete their regular session, budget session and special session.