CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bills that appeared dead Saturday -- including a measure authorizing a sales tax increment financing district for a major development project outside of Morgantown, and a bill to increase pay raises for magistrates -- found new life Wednesday as the Legislature convened in special session.
By Wednesday evening, the key issue on the six-bill special session agenda, the TIF authorization (SB1001), had passed both houses and was sent to the governor.
The multi-million dollar development outside of Morgantown will include a privately funded exit off Interstate 79 between Westover and Star City; a $16.2 million ballpark for West Virginia University and a minor league ball club; retail developments; and Class A office space. The bill passed the Senate 34-0, and the House 91-2.
In the regular session, the TIF bill had passed the Senate 34-0, but died in the House on the final day of the session as it was being held for leverage when the House and Senate leadership could not reach agreement on separate bills to give pay raises to magistrates.
The House had passed a bill eliminating a lower pay tier, giving raises to 48 magistrates and staff in smaller counties. The Senate offered a less costly alternative, aimed primarily at restoring salaries for eight magistrates and staff in four counties who had dropped to the lower pay tier Jan. 1 because of population losses in those counties.
A compromise bill advanced in the special session Wednesday (SB1003) would give immediate pay raises to those magistrates and staff in Lewis, McDowell, Wetzel and Wyoming, and also increase salaries for magistrates and staff in Barbour and Roane counties.
The bill would also eliminate the lower pay tier of $51,125 in January 2017, setting all magistrate salaries at $57,500. It also mandates a study regarding what Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, called "staggering differences" in caseload between the busiest and least busy magisterial districts in the state.
The bill passed the Senate 28-6, but motions to suspend the constitutional rule that a bill must be read on three separate days twice failed to get a four-fifths majority in the House, extending the session for at least one day.
The magistrate pay bill had divided the House in the regular session, passing on a partisan 53-45 vote, with all but three Republicans voting against the measure.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin called the special session Wednesday afternoon, after two days of negotiations with House and Senate leaders, including a 90-minute meeting in the governor's office Tuesday.
Also passed in special session was a bill to transfer $4 million to help volunteer fire departments cover increases in Workers' Compensation premiums for firefighters (HB103).