CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates has passed a state worker furlough bill meant to provide security for employees in the event of a government shutdown.
The vote was 82-2. Delegates Geoff Foster and Marty Gearheart were the two who voted against it.
Delegates said they hope to not have to use it, but said it provides assurance for workers and guidance for agencies.
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, who explained the bill, said “I’ll be urging you to pass this bill, although I hope we never have to use it.”
The bill, which was amended by the House Judiciary Committee, was different from the one introduced by Gov. Jim Justice. It narrowed language that referenced a “fiscal emergency” to specify furloughs could be enabled in instances where there’s no state budget, such as in the event of a veto. It also allows for the pooling of agency reserve funds to continue some operations.
The main purpose of the bill, though, is to protect employee benefits such as vacation, healthcare and retirement in the event of a shutdown. State leaders such as Governor Justice warned that benefits that employees earned over the years could be at risk if they had to be laid off. Among the amendments was one offering backpay for employees upon their return from furlough.
“We are trying to protect employees’ rights in the event of a shutdown,” said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia. “I am very pleased that we worked this out in a bipartisan fashion.”
Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, agreed.
“We certainly hope we never have to use it, but I think it’s an important protection for state employees to preserve their benefits, to preserve being recalled,” Boggs said, “but I think an important component is the fact that there’s provisions in there that should this ever have to be done because of the budget, this is on the Legislature and the governor to get the budget done. We don’t want to penalize state employees.”
The bill now goes to the state Senate.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael said the Senate will discuss the bill, but his preference is to pass a budget prior to the start of the new fiscal year and to avoid having to use a furlough law.
“It is an admission essentially that we’re not going to be able to get a budget accomplished. And I want to assure, at least from the perspective of the Senate we will get this done,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson. “We may take some precautions to do the furlough components. But our 100 percent focus is to get this government funded with tax reform measures.”
Governor Justice has said passage of the bill was a crucial step in ensuring the rights of employees in the event of a shutdown.
“We have to prepare for the worst case scenario, and if that day comes I want to ensure all of our state workers are protected,” Justice stated in a news release. “It’s not right for our state workforce to lose their health insurance coverage or see their benefits disappear on July 1 if there is no budget in place. This bill needs to pass in order to safeguard state employees.”