Special session passes Monongalia TIF bill in about an hour - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Special session passes Monongalia TIF bill in about an hour

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Monongalia County and volunteer fire departments both can breathe a sigh of relief.

Both groups saw success with their legislation the second time around the 2013 Legislature.

The legislation to allow the Monongalia County Commission to enact a tax increment finance project that died in the final day of the regular legislative session passed the full Legislature in just an hour of an extraordinary session April 17.

The measure passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House of Delegates with only two dissenting votes. Both houses voted to suspend the constitutional rules that require a bill be read on three separate days.

Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, explained that the bill, Senate Bill 1001, would create the 1,450 acre project that would include an interstate interchange, a new baseball stadium for minor league teams and West Virginia University and about 1,100 permanent jobs.

The bill that became entangled with the TIF bill the final day of the regular session came back to life during the special session as well. Senate Bill 1003 addresses magistrate court salaries. It unanimously passed the Senate, but vote to suspend the constitutional rules for a vote on the bill in the House did not carry.

The compromise that was reached on that issue would shift the division between the two tiers of magistrate pay. That would enable magistrates and staff in Lewis, McDowell, Wetzel and Wyoming counties to have their pay restored to the levels they were before a decrease in 2010 Census populations there caused their pay to drop, and it also includes Barbour and Roane counties. The bill also would increase the pay of all the magistrates at the lower pay level until Jan. 1, 2017, which would be after the next election. The bill also would request a study by the National Center for State Courts to review each district's caseload and report back to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2014.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, told lawmakers the disparity in magistrate workload is "pretty staggering," with the busiest counties handling more than 3,000 cases per magistrate and the least busy counties with fewer than 700 cases per magistrate.

Another leftover issue included in the special session call was House Bill 103,  the distribution of state funds for volunteer fire departments workers compensation fund, and it passed the full Legislature April 17 after the constitutional rules were suspended in both houses.

Prezioso told the Senate there had been a "misconception that the Senate doesn't support volunteer fire departments," but this bill should clear that up, he said. Prezioso explained the bill's progress: he House of Delegates proposed pulling $7.5 million from the fire marshal's account, but Prezioso said the parties agreed that was too deep a cut, and put $500,000 into the volunteer fire department workers compensation line item. Prezioso said the committee, in talking with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office, realized that would not be enough funding, so the final proposal that ended up in the bill took $4 million from the fire marshal's account and put it toward the volunteer fire departments' workers compensation fund. Prezioso said Tomblin's office indicated those fund should "take care of the workers' comp problem for probably two years."

The bill also calls for a comprehensive study of how to better sustain volunteer fire departments, due to the Legislature by Dec. 31, 2015.

Three more bills are on hold in the Legislature, which is scheduled to return at 11 a.m. April 18. Those measures include local sales and use taxes, rule-making authority for the tax commissioner and budget appropriations that would take about $10 million from the 2009 flood recover fund and $7.5 million from the Attorney General's consumer protection account.