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The sandbox legislators

March 16, 1999

As West Virginia's 60-day legislative session wound to a close this past Saturday night, it took some last-minute maneuvers by key lawmakers to keep some major bills from expiring at the midnight deadline. There's got be a better way to do business.

One of the key issues of this session was the proposal to change the state's domestic relations laws. The proposal was hampered because many suspected it was being lobbied behind the scenes by Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, because of his own bitter divorce. Del. Arley Johnson, D-Cabell, ripped Chafin from the floor, claiming he was trying to kill the reforms.

The state senate, facing the prospect that the House would blame its members if reform measures failed to pass, approved them and sent them over just minutes before midnight. House members, suspecting that the Senate was getting ready to blame them for the measures' failure, passed it in the nick of time.

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This sort of squabble might be appropriate (or at least excusable) if the issue were which woodland creature to name as the state's mascot. But this package involves divorce, and how to ease its effect on any children involved. Fortunately, it seems that some positive provisions survived the confusged process at session's end, including:

- Requiring divorcing parents to take a class on the impact of divirce on children before their cases come to court,

- Changing the child-support formula to one that's nationally recognized, based on per-capita income.

But what didn't happen, despite an increased workload for the state's family law masters, was the creation of additional full-time master positions in the department. Del. Johnson is calling for a special session to "finish the job."

It's not the only job that needs to be finished. Apay raise bill for state employees was caught in the same sort of immature dispute, with key lawmakers kot answering each other's phone calls. Gov. Cecil Underwood recently indicated he's ready to end his opposition to meeting with legislators prior to the session. Now maybe he can persuade them that talking to each other couldn't hurt either.

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