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Manchin approves more than 60 bills, vetoes five others

April 06, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia will add 10 judges to its family court system, including one for Berkeley and Jefferson counties, but none to circuit courts after Gov. Joe Manchin signed and vetoed the final batch of bills Wednesday from the recent legislative session.

Manchin approved more than 60 measures, including ones that will block new methadone clinics and allow younger adults to join their parents' health insurance.

But Manchin also vetoed five bills, including one (SB400) that would have added six circuit judges statewide. The Legislature also should have redrawn circuit boundaries to ease caseloads and reflect population trends, Manchin said in his veto message.

"I applaud the governor for vetoing the bill," said state Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, who along with fellow 16th district Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, criticized the final version of the legislation.

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A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Yoder said he was part of a subcommittee that recommended a sixth circuit judgeship be added to the Eastern Panhandle's 23rd Judicial Circuit by 2009, but that proposal failed in committee.

The version that passed added judges in the state where the population is decreasing, while Yoder said the three-county region deserved another circuit judge based on population.

"I'm hoping the governor will call a special session and ask the court system and Legislature to do their respective jobs and redraw the circuits," said Yoder, an attorney from Harpers Ferry, W.Va. All 66 circuit judgeships will be on 2008 election ballots across the state, and redistricting would have to be in place by Dec. 31, 2007, Manchin noted in his veto message.

Unless appointed by the governor, judges are elected to eight-year terms.

Manchin met a midnight deadline Wednesday to act on legislation, or allow it to become law without his signature. Manchin spokesman Matt Turner said Thursday that Manchin would consider adding the circuit judge bill to the call for a special session, if lawmakers requested it.

Signed bills

A bill signed Wednesday by Manchin will increase the age of dependents covered by a person's group health plan to 25.

"I want to make sure that we're covering West Virginia citizens," Manchin said when asked about the measure earlier this week. "The more people we can cover, the better off we can become as a society."

The bill becomes law July 1. It could extend coverage to as many as 20,000 uninsured West Virginians, according to an analysis from the recent 60-day legislative session.

"This really is one of the most important pieces of health-care legislation to come along in years," said Perry Bryant of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, which supported the bill.

Manchin also signed a bill that temporarily would block any new "opioid treatment centers" that offer methadone in drug treatment. Lawmakers passed the measure amid concerns over methadone addictions and overdose deaths. The moratorium, which takes effect June 8, would not apply to centers that gained state certification, but have yet to open. Martinsburg Institute in Berkeley Plaza north of the city is the Eastern Panhandle's only such treatment center.

Other bills signed Wednesday included the pay raise for teachers and school service workers (HB2777), campaign finance law changes (SB713), an effort to measure greenhouse gas emissions (SB337) and a curb on lawsuits from out-of-state plaintiffs (HB2956).

More vetoes

Manchin cited faulty language in vetoing a bill addressing animal cruelty cases. Senate Bill 413 sought to increase the burden of proof needed before a humane officer could gain custody of an allegedly abandoned, neglected or mistreated animal. The bill failed to erase a key provision of the existing law in setting the new standard, the governor concluded.

The governor also vetoed the proposed Electronic Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Act (SB748) and House Bill 2558. The latter measure aimed to distribute surplus state computers to county school systems and needy students.

The House bill had several defects, including an erroneous reference to higher education, Manchin said in that veto message. Manchin also said the telecom bill threatened a "critical strategic alliance" the state has made with Cisco Systems Inc.

Unger, the bill's lead sponsor, was disappointed with Manchin's veto, and disputed the governor's assessment.

"It's enabling legislation and not prohibiting anything," Unger said. The legislation would have provided for an availability survey of broadband service statewide and encouraged public-private partnerships to the "build out" of the technology and create demand through efforts to enhance early childhood education, Unger said.

"Nationally, it's been taking off," Unger said. "It's going to happen in other places."

Manchin had approved more than 200 bills heading into Wednesday, while vetoing nearly a dozen others. The Legislature still was in session to pass corrected versions of six of those voided measures. The rest must wait until next year - barring a special session agenda from Manchin.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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