CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate passed a bill Saturday that would remove the mandate that all judicial circuits in West Virginia operate an adult drug court.

The bill (SB 492), which passed 20-13, sparked a 30-minute debate during the Senate’s first weekend floor session of the current 60-day regular session.

A 2013 vote by the legislature mandated the adult drug courts in each circuit by July 1, 2016, but that hasn’t happened.

“In my opinion it was probably wrong three years ago for the legislature to impose that unfunded mandate on the judiciary,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump (R-Morgan) said.

The bill doesn’t eliminate any particular drug court but it takes away the mandate, according to Trump.

“All this says is the Supreme Court will be able to stand up and continue drug courts in areas where the judicial branch of the government thinks it’s effective,” Trump said.

In a Feb. 14 budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Supreme Court Chief Justice Allen Loughry asked the legislature to take another look at drug courts and their funding.

“It (the drug issue) is a very serious issue,” Loughry said. “But what you have to ask yourselves is, ‘Is there a better way to handle this situation?’”

Senator Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha) said there are currently three circuits that don’t have drug courts and likely aren’t interested.

“The reality is if they are being forced to do it and they still aren’t doing it they aren’t interested in doing it,” Palumbo said.

Trump said there have been mixed reports about the effectiveness of drug courts but Senator Ryan Weld (R-Brooke) lauded their work.

“This gives a chance to keep families together, to reunite families, to give somebody a chance without throwing them in jail,” Weld said.

The bill will now head to the House of Delegates.

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