CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate on Friday approved bills to limit legislators’ special session pay, to raise the mileage rate for judges who drive their own cars to work-related events, and to make searches for missing persons more efficient.

Special session pay

Drawn-out budget battles and special sessions dragging on for weeks during several previous years led to great discontent and criticism about legislators collecting paychecks while accomplishing nothing.

The idea of limiting their pay was often discussed, and some prior bills to that effect went nowhere.

But SB 263 passed 30-0 and heads to the House. It has four Democrat and two Republican sponsors. Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion is lead sponsor. Minority party legislators – no matter which is in charge – almost never get to explain bills on the Senate floor, but Prezioso enjoyed that privilege or Friday.

SB 263 says that for any special or extended session where no budget is passed, legislators will be paid for only five days. They will get their expense reimbursement for meals, travel and lodging, but no additional money. The five-day limit doesn’t apply if they pass a budget but the governor vetoes it and they have to come back.

The limitation also won’t apply to budget bill conference committee members who have to haggle over terms while the rest of the legislators wait on them with essentially nothing to do.

Judge mileage

Legislation passed in 1975 and never updated sets the mileage reimbursement rate for justices and circuit judges who drive their own vehicles to work-related events at 15 cents per mile.

SB 346 sets the rate at an amount equal to the amount designated by the Travel Management Office of the Department of Administration for payment to state employees. The travel office updates the rate periodically.

Missing persons

SB 237 is the 13-page Missing Persons Act.

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, talked about families who have come to him about missing members and the obstacles they encountered with law enforcement searches. One Logan County family came to him about a missing niece. “It was just a tear-fest, folks.”

Turning to the bill, he said, “This is a bill that unites us. …. I can’t think of a better piece of legislation we’ll pass this session than this.”

The bill sets out in detail a modernized system for missing person searches – from inter-agnecy communication protocols to access to national databases and specific information to gather regarding the missing person.

The bill says, “The ability of law-enforcement agencies to rapidly respond in the hours following the discovery that an individual is missing is a crucial factor in the likelihood that the person will ultimately be located and recovered.”

In keeping with Beach’s comment about unity, it passed 30-0.

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