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Editorial: Why sign a bad bill?

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 4283, which increases the state minimum wage over two years from $7.25 per hour to $8.75 per hour.

Yet, in signing the document, the Governor noted problems with the bill that, if left uncorrected, could cost larger municipalities in the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, he called for a special session in May, to coincide with legislative interims, where he’ll ask legislators to fix the bill.

In a press release, the Governor said he “was aware there may be some unintended consequences related to overtime compensation and maximum hours worked which give me great pause.”

How’s that again? The bill could be a big problem for municipalities and other employers as written and needs corrected, but the Governor signs it anyway? And he says the Legislature will fix the problem before the law goes into effect.

Isn’t that a backward approach?

Because firefighters work 24 hour shifts at a time – meaning two shifts in one week would bring 8 hours overtime – the bill that takes away the overtime exemption previously worked out with firefighters could cost the city of Charleston as much as $700,000 annually.

“We don’t have it,” Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said Wednesday of the amount of money to pay the overtime if the law goes into effect as is. Without changes in the law, Charleston may be forced to reduce firefighter shifts and end full-time staffing for some fire stations.

Why not veto the bill, noting the problems it causes municipalities, then call a special session to pass a good clean bill in the first place; that is, assuming a bill that substantially raises the operating costs for many small businesses could be considered a good bill?

The Governor obviously has confidence that legislators will make the changes. The news release his office issued Wednesday contains assurances of support from both House Speaker Tim Miley and Senate President Jeff Kessler, as well as from West Virginia AFL-CIO President Kenny Purdue, as if he were an elected official.

But anything can happen when the Legislature comes into session, extraordinary or otherwise, and signing a bill that even the Governor has serious problems with is a big risk for municipalities across the state.


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