CHARLESTON — Lawmakers on Thursday continued working to wrap up high-priority pieces of legislation before the end of the regular session April 10.
The Senate on Thursday agreed to changes the House of Delegates made to Senate Bill 275, which establishes an intermediate court of appeals in West Virginia. The most significant of those changes involved cutting the number of court districts from two to one.
The three judges on the court, to be appointed by Gov. Jim Justice by 2022, would hear appeals in certain cases from county and circuit courts, administrative appeals for state employees, and a newly established board of review for workers compensation claims.
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, was the only senator to talk about the bill Thursday, saying the court will create a bottleneck of cases in the state’s judicial system.
“I continue to oppose this bill in its current form,” Romano said. “It demonstrates how we’re playing with fire.”
Senate Bill 275 will advance to Justice for his consideration after it is finalized. Justice has indicated his support for an intermediate court.
Also Thursday, the House and Senate voted to appoint three-member committees to work out disagreements over a bill dealing with a governor’s authority during states of emergency or preparedness.
The Senate adopted House Bill 2003 Wednesday, but the House voted later that day to ask the Senate to recede its position, something senators declined to do Thursday morning.
One of the biggest points of disagreement between the chambers has to do with whether the bill would affect the current state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the House had intended for HB 2003 to affect the current state of emergency. The Senate amended the bill to state it would not be applicable to the current state of emergency.
Justice declared the state of emergency on March 16, 2020. The state of emergency can be lifted either by an executive order from the governor or a joint resolution passed by the Legislature.
Last summer, the House garnered enough support to call a special session to deal with the state of emergency and the $1.25 billion the state received from the federal CARES Act, but Senate leaders didn’t get enough support there to make the session happen.
Another point of disagreement in the bill has to do with what happens when states of preparedness or emergency are set to expire.
In the Senate’s version of the bill, the governor would be able to extend a declaration as long as he or she provides a written report to the Senate president, House speaker and the Legislative Joint Committee on Government and Finance every 30 days after the set expiration date.
The governor’s report would have to include a “written statement of his or her reasons to believe that the conditions warrant any continuation” of a state of emergency or preparedness.
Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, appointed Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, and Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, to the Senate’s conference committee for HB 2003.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, appointed House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, Delegate Jefferey Pack, R-Raleigh, and Delegate Nathan Brown, D-Mingo, to the House’s committee.
The meeting is set to meet at 8 a.m. Friday. If the conference committees aren’t able to reach an agreement, the bill would effectively be dead for the 2021 session.