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House Republicans blast magistrate pay raise bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Détente between Democrats and newly empowered Republicans in the House of Delegates lasted all of six days -- with GOP members on Monday blasting the fast-tracking of a bill to give pay raises to some magistrates and staff.

Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, complained that the bill (HB2434) sends the wrong message that the first bill the House will pass this session will be a pay raise bill for elected officials -- particularly when state agencies are being asked to cut their budgets by $75 million.

"Given the budget position we are in, we simply can't do this," Cowles said of the total $737,000 annual cost of the raises.

Heaid the message should be that improving public education and the state's job environment are the top priorities for the House, not pay raises for politicians.

"We've said a priority of this House is to proceed to consideration of pay raises for public officials," Cowles said. It is more important that this body consider pay raises than helping the average family in West Virginia."

Earlier in Monday's floor session, Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, attempted a rarely used procedural motion to reject the bill on first reading. The motion failed 43-52, largely on party lines.

That drew an angry rebuke from Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, who denied Cowles' assertion that Democrats had tried to "slip one by" the minority members with a motion Friday to waive sending the bill to Finance Committee.

"You can defeat the bill on third reading; you can amend the bill any way you want on second reading," he told House Republicans.

"Is this the way this session is going to be all year?" Caputo complained regarding the motion to kill the bill. "I have never witnessed a maneuver such as that, so call it what it is."

Having gained 11 members in the 2012 election, House Republicans account for a large minority of 46 of the 100 delegates, raising concern about how the GOP members would use their new-found power.

"It is unfortunate we started out this session in this matter, but I hope it is a lesson learned," House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said of the dust-up.

He said Republicans have been criticized in the past for attempting to short-circuit the committee process by discharging bills from committees to the House floor, and said waiving a committee reference is equally disrespectful of the process.

"If we're talking about working together and respecting each other, there are some things that must be done," he said. "Let's not selectively respect the committee process."

The lead sponsor of the bill, House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said he didn't think the measure was controversial, particularly since the House passed the same legislation in 2012.

The bill would eliminate two tiers of salaries for magistrates and staffs, with magistrates in counties with populations of 8,400 or larger making $57,500 and magistrates in smaller counties making $51,125.

Because of population declines, magistrates in Lewis, McDowell, Wetzel and Wyoming counties received pay cuts to the lower salary tier as of Jan. 1.

Miley said he didn't think the bill needed to go to Finance, since the funding is already built into the state Supreme Court's 2013-14 budget. Constitutionally, the Legislature cannot cut the budget of the judicial branch.

As drafted, the bill would give raises of $6,375 to 48 magistrates -- including restoring salary for 10 magistrates who received pay cuts Jan. 1 -- and smaller increases to 76 magistrate clerks and assistants.

House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, called for a spirit of cooperation Monday.

"We do no good for anyone if we're going to attack people for basically trying to move a bill forward that passed this House last year," he said.

Last year, the magistrate pay bill passed the House 65-30, but died in the Senate Finance Committee.Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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