Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate unanimously passed a bill aimed at fixing the problem of hiring and retaining Child Protective Services workers across the state, and sent it to the House of Delegates on Wednesday.
The Senate also passed a bill to help low-population, tourist-oriented counties pay for fire and EMS services.
Judiciary chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, praised the Finance and Health committees for their work on the bill and provided the sole comment: “I think it’s a good effort.”
SB 273 would allocate CPS workers based on county population and worker caseload. It also allows the Bureau for Social Services to provide merit-based and locality pay.
The Bureau will also develop a special merit-based system to hire CPS, youth service and adult protective service workers, and necessary casework support personnel and managers. The system may include compensation adjustments, retention incentives, and hiring approval by the Bureau commissioner.
The pay rates and employment requirements would take by Jan. 1, 2024.
This special merit-based system would apply to new employees and to any existing employees who choose to opt in.
The system will be exempt from the Division of Personnel and any DOP requirements. It was said in committee that DOP rules hamstring the Bureau paying workers at a higher rate and offering locality pay to account for regional market rates and demands for positions.
With that DOP exemption, the bill says there is no right to a grievance for any regional pay disparity by an employee of the merit-based system or any employee of the classified service.
The bill also includes a technology component: a redundancy system to compensate for any outages in its 24/7 phone system for receiving abuse and neglect reports. The system must be in place by July 1. If a redundancy system is already in place, the Department of Health and Human Resources must explain to the Legislature why calls went unanswered.
DHHR estimates the cost of implementing a new phone system at $1.3 million initially, then $879,000 annually thereafter to maintain it.
Health and safety fee bill
SB 429 would allow counties to impose a health and safety fee of up to $1 on recreational activities in that county. The money would fund EMS services and fire departments.
Lead sponsor Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, spoke at length on the bill.
“This is a huge problem in my home county of Tucker,” and other rural counties, he said.
The problem, it’s been said in committee discussions, is that these small rural counties don’t have the tax base to support the demand on services required by the influx of tourists.
Smith said everyone supports firefighters and EMS workers, but that’s not enough. “They need our financial support too, not just our moral support.” The crews are often seen standing out on the roads conducting boot drives, “basically begging for money to serve their community. That’s not the way it should be.
Smith said he and other senators have received communications from Tourism opposing the bill, alleging it will harm the industry. Smith countered that people don’t and won’t think for a second about paying an extra dollar.
“If we can spend millions of dollars promoting tourism for private resorts and everything else that brings all these people in here, at least we can give our volunteers a little bit of money.”
Smith said he has four bills in the system and he’s grateful this one moved. This bill levies a fee instead of imposing a new tax.
Earlier in the session, Senate Government Organization approved one of his others, SB 105, which would allow a county to impose a tax OF up to 2% of the admission price on any amusement or entertainment offered within the county. Last year, the same bill passed the Senate but died in the House.
And this year, SB 105 stalled in Finance, making room for SB 429 to move forward. It passed 32-2 and goes to the House.