Senate approves intermediate appeals court bill with 1-vote margin; passes Sunday liquor sales bill

CHARLESTON – By a single vote, the state Senate approved the bill to create an intermediate appeals court bill, SB 266, and sent it to the House.

Unlike previous years, this intermediate court bill came down from the governor.

Judiciary chair Charles Trump defends the intermediate court bill.

SB 266 passed 17-16. Three Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with the minority: Sens. Charles Clements of Wetzel, Bill Hamilton of Upshur, and Dave Sypolt of Preston. With one Republican absent, Sue Cline of Wyoming, the bill could have died 16-17.

But Democrat Paul Hardesty, of Logan, crossed the other way and tipped the balance.

The arguments for and against were familiar.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison and a lawyer, has long led the opposition. There’s no reason for this new layer of government, he said. Its decisions can be appealed to the state Supreme Court and will hold no weight in federal court.

With its $7.6 million start-up price tag, he called the proposed court “this new sucking of our citizens’ tax money.” It could add two more years to cases, and will benefit companies with deep pockets.

“It’ll make lawyers a lot more money. It’s going to cost our small businesses a lot more money.” And it will hurt regular folks, too.

Judiciary chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, has been a longtime proponent. He said there is a single good reason to create an intermediate court: to form a broader body of case law to provide more precedent, clarity and certainty.

He cited reports from 2009, under Gov. Joe Manchin, and 1998, under Gov. Cecil Underwood, that recommended creation of an intermediate court for that very reason. The commission that created the 2009 report included such prominent names as Manchin ally and fill-in U.S. Sen. Carte Goodwin, and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

An intermediate court, Trump said, will also allow the Supreme Court to handle cases bearing on new law and new interpretations of law that require its attention. Reviewing appeals from the intermediate court will be purely discretionary. This should allow many appeals to move faster, not slower.

Under SB 266, the three-judge court would begin operating July 1, 2020, the first day of Fiscal Year 2021.

The panel would handle appeals of civil cases, guardianship and conservatorship cases, administrative agency decisions and Workers’ Compensation Review Board decisions. A provision to have the court handle family court appeals was stricken, with that duty returned to circuit courts.

Judges would serve 10 year terms and earn $130,000 per year, halfway between circuit judges at $126,000 and Supreme Court justices at $136,000.

The bill now heads to the House, where last year’s intermediate court bill, SB 341, died in committee. Bills from previous years never got out of Senate Judiciary.

Sunday liquor sales

Faring somewhat better was HB 2481, to permit Sunday liquor sales after 1 p.m.

Proponents have said it will give West Virginia residents more freedom to shop when they please. It also could provide economic benefits from tourists who want to make Sunday purchases and from small distilleries now unable to sell their products on Sundays.

The vote was 22-11 with bipartisan support and opposition. Six Democrats and five Republicans voted against it.

Locally, Democrat Bob Beach and Republicans Charles Clements and Mike Maroney voted for it; Democrat Roman Prezioso and Republicans Randy Smith and Dave Sypolt voted against it.

It returns to the House for amendment concurrence.

Bridge resolution

The Senate also adopted SCR 25, to name the Sabraton Green Bag Road bridge crossing Deckers Creek by Classics as the PFC Andrew “Bo” Martin Harper Memorial Bridge. It goes to the House for concurrence.

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