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Magistrate pay, Morgantown TIF bills die in the House

Kenny Kemp
House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne (center), talks with Delegates Patrick Lane (left) and Minority Leader Tim Armstead, both R-Kanawha, Saturday afternoon, the last day of the Legislature's 60-day regular session. House Speaker Pro Tempore Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock (second from right), and Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton (right), listen in.
Kenny Kemp This is a view through the doors to the House of Delegates chamber Saturday afternoon, the last day of the regular legislative session.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Time ran out for two key bills in the 2013 regular session -- one to give pay raises to magistrates and another to authorize a tax increment financing plan for a $96 million Morgantown economic development project that includes a new ballpark.

For the final hours of the 2013 legislative session, the House and Senate grappled with the two unresolved issues. Both bills died in the House late Saturday night.

The two seemingly unrelated bills were intertwined, with the House of Delegates holding up the Morgantown TIF authorization (SB125) in order to get approval of the magistrate pay raise bill (HB2434), at which Senate leaders had initially balked.

Earlier Saturday, the Senate passed a version of the pay-hike bill giving raises to 12 magistrates and staff in 12 counties. House leaders are pushing for a bill eliminating the lower pay tier of $51,125, raising 48 magistrates to a $57,500 salary, with raises for those magistrates' staff.

Caught in the balance was the TIF bill, which would provide at least $96 million of new development, and would fund construction of a new exit off Interstate 79 between Westover and Star City, as well as construction of a $16.2 million baseball park for West Virginia University and a New York-Penn League affiliate.

Shortly before 11:30 p.m. the Senate adopted a Finance Committee resolution for an interim study to equalize magistrate court caseloads and pay - in hopes of persuading the House to pass both the magistrate pay and TIF district bills.

"Simply equalizing pay doesn't solve the problem," said Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, who said he was shocked the House was holding up the TIF bill, which he called the "major economic development bill of this session."

That was not enough to shake loose the bills.

"It doesn't do anything for equalization," said House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.

Besides, he said, there was not enough time to get the bills passed in the waning minutes of the session.

"If we tried to make a major change in the bill, it might get talked to death," Boggs said.   

There was no immediate word from the governor's office whether Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin would consider adding the bills to a special session call at the end of the budget conference this week.

Also on the final day of the 2013 regular session of the Legislature:

| A key item in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's agenda, a legislative initiative to curb overcrowding in state prisons and regional jails by reducing recidivism through mandatory post-release supervision, substance abuse treatment and counseling (SB371), passed the Senate 34-0 and is awaiting the governor's signature.

Tomblin said Saturday night he was appreciative that the Legislature had passed his key bills on prison overcrowding and on public schools reform. He said having outside experts review issues with both bills helped build support for the measures.

"Having some professional help, or professional opinions from outside, and having them non-biased is one of the things that helped us gain the momentum to get those bills passed," Tomblin said.

| The Senate agreed to changes to a bill (SB663) that would expand free breakfast and lunch programs at West Virginia schools. The House previously approved the legislation with minor changes.

Republican senators questioned whether the program would burden local school boards with additional expenses and state mandates. County school boards would be required to set up accounts or nonprofit foundations to accept contributions that would be used to provide additional meals to students.

Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the expanded program would increase the amount of federal funds West Virginia receives for school meals. Tomblin is expected to sign the bill, called the Feed to Achieve Act.

| The House passed 99-0 legislation to permit Kanawha Valley and Bridgemont Community and Technical Colleges to merge (SB438). The bill clarifies that both the South Charleston and Montgomery campuses must remain open.

| The Senate passed on a 31-3 vote a bill that will make it a misdemeanor for members of grand juries to disclose information about pending indictments (HB2498).

"It covers anything that's said in the grand jury room," said Sen. Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire, a retired judge.

The legislation is intended to discourage jurors from tipping off drug dealers before their arrest.

Earlier Saturday, senators rejected the bill by a 25-9 vote, after Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, argued that jurors could be put in jail for innocently discussing what occurred on jury duty with their spouses or neighbors.

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, later met with senators and persuaded them to change their vote. Marcum, an assistant prosecutor in Mingo County, said the late Sheriff Eugene Crum suggested the bill. Crum was shot to death April 3 while eating lunch in a Williamson parking lot.

| The Legislature passed a watered-down version of a governor's bill (HB2513) that aims to crack down on people who drive while under the influence of drugs. The legislation would not revoke someone's driver license if they refused a blood test - a provision in an earlier version of the bill.

The Senate removed the punishment, saying a blood test was much more intrusive than a Breathalyzer test used to measure motorists' blood alcohol level. Drivers can lose their licenses if they refuse a Breathalyzer test.

| The House passed 99-0 a bill limiting the $7,500 state tax credit for purchases of alternative fuel vehicles to natural gas or liquid propane-fueled vehicles, effective April 15 (SB185).

|  The House passed 97-2 a bill (SB22) that requires health insurance plans to provide maternity care to all dependents on the policy. The state Public Employees Insurance Agency currently excludes dependent daughters.

"This legislation will help ensure that a young woman gets the health care she needs to have a healthy pregnancy," said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of women's health group WV Free. "This legislation will save West Virginia money and could save the lives of babies by helping young women get critical prenatal care."

| State lawmakers agreed to pass a bill (HB2825) that would raise the salary of the next cabinet secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources from $95,000 to $175,000 a year.

| The Senate passed a bill (HB2805) that allows public financing for candidates running for the state Supreme Court. The House previously voted to continue the program, which started as a pilot project last year.

Allen Loughry, a Republican, won a seat on the Supreme Court after receiving public funds through the pilot program. The bill would give qualified candidates up to $300,000 in campaign funds during the primary election, and $525,000 during the general election.

| The Senate approved House changes to a bill that bars minors from going to tanning salons unless they have a parent's permission. Tanning salons also must register with local health departments.

Under the bill (SB464), minors 14 and younger would not be allowed to go to tanning salons, while those 15 to 18 years of age would need parental consent. Tanning salons that violate the law would face penalties of $100 to $1,000.

| The House unanimously passed Senate changes to a bill (HB3157) that's intended to reduce unnecessary paperwork and reports that teachers and principals must submit annually to the state Department of Education. The legislation also directs the department to consider ways to give more authority to local school systems.

The Legislature will meet in special session this week to work on the state budget.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 348-1220.


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