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Delegates at odds over magistrate pay bill

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The first bill out of the pipe usually doesn't ruffle too many feathers within the House of Delegates.

But a bill introduced earlier this session to set a standard pay scale for magistrates across the state has drawn the ire of House Republicans, who are calling it a pay raise bill.

House Bill 2434 was introduced Feb. 13, the first day of the 81st Legislature by Delegates Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and Tim Manchin, D-Marion, chairman and vice-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill, if it's passed, would set the pay of magistrates who serve populations of 8,400 or greater to $57,500 annually beginning July 1. Right now, pay varies by county, based on county population. The bill also sets standard pay for court assistants and top court clerks.

But Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, said he didn't want the bill to proceed. He proposed a motion Feb. 18 that objected to the furthering of the bill; however, Lane's motion was defeated by a vote of 43-53 -- along party lines.

Lane said he doesn't want the bill to go any further because it sets a precedent that the Legislature cares more about pay raises for elected officials than it does education or job creation.

"That is the vote we took," he said.

The bill originated in the Judiciary Committee, and it included a second reference to the House Finance Committee. However, that second committee reference was dispensed with Feb. 15 and the bill was read a first time Feb. 18.

That move angered Republicans, who said the bill is being "fast-tracked" to passage.

"The first bill out of the committee, out of the gate, is a pay raise proposal put on the fast track with unusual maneuvers when we should fast track anything with job growth policies or bipartisan education reform," said Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan and House Minority Whip. "The House Republican caucus will not take their eye off the ball. This session is about bipartisan, students-first education reform."

Part of the reason Republicans object to the bill is because it is funded out of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals surplus fund, which was exempted from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's budget cuts.

Cowles also is a member of the House Finance Committee, and he noted the state faced a $389 million deficit before the budget cuts were enacted.

"Budget cuts are tough," he said. "Senior citizens, cut. Veterans, cut. Higher education, cut. Military affairs and public safety, cut.

"The Supreme Court has excess funds you'll hear about for this pay raise upstairs. Do you know what their cut is? Zero. None. Exempted."

Cowles went on to say he didn't appreciate the motion to dispense of the second reference to the Finance Committee, especially after nine members of the Judiciary Committee voted against that motion to dispense. The move was not against the rules, Cowles noted, but is "a clear divergent of long-standing tradition and practice in the House."

But so was Lane's motion to stop the bill. House Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said he's never seen such a motion in his 17 years of service.

"The waiver to second reference has happened a lot of times in this body," he said when addressing the House. "And unless you're a freshman, like a lot of you are, you've seen it happen many times.

"No one tried to catch you asleep at the wheel. The motion was made to dispense with, it happened, it's over, it's done. There are two more readings on this bill. I'm sorry you're offended. You can debate the bill on second reading, you can amend the bill on second reading. We can have a full and free debate on the bill. None of that has changed except one thing ... there are a few people who elect to grandstand on this bill. But I'm not going to stand here and let the majority party be accused of tactics that aren't true. You missed it, you missed it. You could've objected. One person could've objected.

"I've been here 17 years and I've never seen a motion like the one the minority party presented today."

House Bill 2434 is expected to be read a second time Feb. 19, and it could be brought up for a full House vote Feb. 20