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Try again next year

March 17, 1999

Despite some ill feelings on both sides of the issues, the West Virginia Legislature managed to pass important bills dealing with employee pay raises and family law just minutes before the 1999 session ended at midnight this past Saturday.

That's the good news. The bad news is that one of the bills may have fatal flaws while the other has significant omissions. Fixing them will require action during a special extended session. It's another example of what happens when lawmakers allow personal feelings to get in the way of their responsibilities.

The family law bill, which was supposed to reform divorce laws, was stalled because some lawmakers suspected that Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, who'd undergone a painful and public divorce, was meddling behind the scenes.

And while lawmakers passed a bill giving most state employees and teachers a $756 raise, another measure to give state troopers and other officials raises died, in part because delegates and senates couldn't agree, and in some cases wouldn't even talk to each other about their disagreements.

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As a result of all this, the family-law bill, cobbled together at the last minute, apparently contain inaccurate definitions and erroneous references to other parts of the state law. House Judiciary Committee officials say it will have to be vetoed and reworked.

The pay issue may be simpler, since there's no flawed bill to be dealt with. Instead, there's agreement that state troopers need a raise, but no consensus on pay hikes for agency heads and judges.

Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher would like a total overhaul of the family law system, and state employee lobbyists would like a better pay-increase package. Neither is likely, since the governor and House leadership want a quick special session that would clean up problems quickly, rather than open any full-scale debates.

Unfortunately, that will leave the family law system as it is for another year, and some state officials with no raises. It's not a good way to do business, and perhaps if the public lets lawmakers know they feel that way, it won't happen again in 2000.

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