Democrats in the House of Delegates stuck together and passed a bill Wednesday that would increase pay for magistrates and their staffs in 23 of the state’s smaller counties.
The bill, approved on a 53-45 vote, followed more than 90 minutes of what was sometimes emotional debate.
Magistrates in the smaller counties are paid near $52,000 a year. Those in the 32 larger counties make more than $57,000 annually. There’s also a difference in pay for magistrate clerks and staff in the smaller counties.
Supporters say the bill isn’t about caseload but about fairness.
“It’s fundamentally unfair to simply pick out some rural counties and rural folks and say ‘you’re worth less than the folks over here in the city,’” Del. Tim Manchin, D-Marion, said.
The money, more than $720,000, would come from the state Supreme Court’s budget. The court says it has enough money in its current budget to pay for the raises for about three years. State lawmakers would have to allocate more after that.
Del. Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, argued the magistrates have already had three pay raises in the last 10 years. He said the timing for this proposal is wrong considering there are thousands of West Virginians out of work.
“The first thing we’re going to vote on this year,” Lane screamed. “The first thing? What’s wrong with us Mr. Speaker? How callous can we be?”
The Democratic majority, which lost significant numbers in the last election, still had enough power in the House to push through a controversial bill. The vote followed party lines with the exception of Republican Delegate Bob Ashley of Roane County who voted for the pay raise.
The bill now heads to the state Senate where it got hung up last year in the Senate Finance Committee. An identical pay raise bill in the Senate does have Sen. President Jeff Kessler as one of its sponsors.