The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would change the pay structure for county magistrates and their employees so each position is paid the same amount across the state.
Introduced by Delegate Tim Miley, D-Harrison and chairman of the committee, the bill moves to eliminate the two-tier salary scale currently in place. It was presented last year but failed in the Senate.
The move creates equal and fair pay, especially for those whose pay dropped because of population loss, said Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, a co-sponsor of the measure. The four counties where pay dropped were Lewis, McDowell, Wetzel and Wyoming.
Pay for magistrates who serve populations of 8,400 or less is capped at $51,125, according to the bill. Those working in more populated areas earn $57,500. The bill proposes that all magistrates are paid the higher rate.
The Supreme Court pays these salaries and is in favor of the measure, said Steve Canterbury, court administrator. The money would come from the court and would not require any additional funds from the Legislature.
Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha and minority vice chairman of the committee, was the most vocal delegate against the measure. He asked Canterbury if the court had discussed lowering all magistrate pay to the lesser rate. Canterbury said he did not think so.
Magistrates have a tough job and probably deserve a pay raise, but so do many other people, Lane said.
"This is not the time for pay raises. It's just sort of callous in my view that the first thing we're dealing with is a pay raise bill when so many of our neighbors are suffering," Lane said.
The committee voted along party lines, approving the measure by a 15-9 margin. They referred the bill to the House Finance Committee, which must also approve it before it goes before the full House chamber.