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Magistrate pay bill unlikely, senator says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The chairman of the state Senate Finance Committee said Thursday he doesn't think his panel will approve a bill passed by the House of Delegates to equalize pay for magistrates and staff in smaller counties.

"I don't think we have any appetite for pay raises this session," Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said Thursday.

A similar House bill died in the Senate Finance Committee last year, and if Prezioso's comments are any indication, the new version of the bill (HB2434) that passed the House on Wednesday is headed for the same fate.

Prezioso said it will be at least a month before the Finance Committee takes up any House bills.

The committee will focus on budget hearings for various state agencies through March 11, and will spend most of the remainder of March working on Senate bills.

"We'll caucus and talk about it," Prezioso said of the magistrate pay bill.

On Wednesday, the lead sponsor of the bill, House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, told delegates there was no agreement with Senate leaders to take up the bill if it passed the House.

However, he noted that Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, is the lead sponsor of the companion bill in the Senate.

Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, pointed out Wednesday that the informal tradition in the Legislature is that if a bill dies in one house, that house must first act on the bill if it is reintroduced in the next or any subsequent session.

The total annual cost for pay raises for 48 magistrates, 23 magistrate clerks, 48 assistants, and five deputy clerks is $737,000, and the funding is included in the state Supreme Court's 2013-14 budget.

The bill provoked the first partisan debate in the newly divided House of Delegates, made up of 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans.

Republicans argued that it sends the wrong message, at a time of budget cuts and high unemployment, for the first bill passed by the House this session to be for pay raises for elected officials.

Democrats argued it was a matter of equity, particularly for magistrates and staff in Lewis, McDowell, Wetzel and Wyoming counties, who suffered pay cuts effective Jan. 1, because population declines dropped those counties into the lower pay tier.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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