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Baseball, judicial raises and Porterfield apology highlight legislative floor action on Monday

MORGANTOWN — The state Senate on Monday passed a bill to give magistrates and judges their first pay raise since 2011, and adopted a resolution to urge Major League Baseball to reconsider its proposal to scrap 42 minor league teams, including Morgantown’s Black Bears.

Over in the House, Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, apologized to nearly everyone in West Virginia for actions he took on the House floor last Wednesday that led to a drawn-out floor session and statewide negative publicity.

Baseball and judges

SR 44 urges MLB “to rescind the ill-advised proposal that threatens the future of professional baseball in West Virginia.”

Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, reminded his colleagues that MLB announced a plan six months ago to eliminate 42 minor league teams, including the four in West Virginia: the Black Bears, West Virginia Power, Princeton Rays and Bluefield Blue Jays. The resolution notes that the teams drew 226,000 fans to games in 2019.

Lindsay said, “This would be catastrophic for each of these areas in West Virginia.” The Charleston-based Power employs 140 people and has a $3 million annual economic impact.

Without these rural teams, he said, few in West Virginia would have the opportunity to enjoy pro ball. “I can’t understand for the life of my why Major League Baseball would undertake such a proposal.”

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, quoted an oft-repeated line from Saturday Night Live skits, “Baseball has been very, very, very good to me.” He added, “And that’s what it’s been for Monongalia County.”

The TIF project near University Towne Centre was anchored on the stadium to house the Black Bears and WVU’s baseball team, he said. “It has been very, very good for economic activity in Monongalia County,” and good for families. Most games sell out. “It’s a good, pleasant atmosphere for the community.”

Senators adopted the resolution 32-0. It’s a Senate resolution and requires no House or gubernatorial action.

SB 597 is the judicial raise bill. It proposes to raise salaries in two stages: the first starting on July 1, the second on July 1, 2021.

For magistrates, salary would rise from $57,500 now to $62,769 and then $68,038 (magistrate pay was changed from a two-tier system to a single system in 2017). Family court judge pay would go from $94,500 to $104,215 and then $113,930.

Circuit judge salaries would rise from $126,000 to $137,535 and then $149,070. And Supreme Court justices would see their pay rise from $136,000 to $148,450 and then $160,901.

The figures were recommended by the Judicial Compensation Commission in 2019. Judicial pay comes from the Supreme Court’s budget.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, supported the bill. He said the pay of many West Virginia judges falls below that of judges in Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico. Litigants expect to have high-level people judging their cases and compensation is relevant to attracting top talent.

It passed 29-3 and goes to the House. Voting no were Beach and Sens. Stephen Baldwin, D- Greenbrier and Eric Tarr, R-Putnam.

Porterfield apology

As various media reported last week, Porterfield engaged in a parking lot argument with Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, over the death of a bill that would have forced spouses of county and state employees off of PEIA insurance coverage.

Delegate Eric Porterfield. Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography

Porterfield had left the committee meeting where the bill, lead sponsored by Steele, was up for a vote and it died in a tie. After the argument, Porterfield failed in attempts to have action taken against Steele and took vengeance by having all but one bill on third reading read in their entirety on Wednesday.

That led to an extended floor session and the cancellation of some committee meetings.

On Monday, Porterfield twice tried during action on bills on third reading to obtain consent to address the House, but both attempts were shot down, one of them in a 60-37 floor vote that required 67 votes for a rule suspension to allow him to speak.

So he had to wait until the end of the floor session when delegates are afforded time for comments.

He apologized to House Democrats and Republicans for dragging out Wednesday’s session. “What you had to sit through on Wednesday and the reason behind that, that’s not acceptable. I’m very, very sorry,” he said. He used a tactic reserved for policy issues to advance his personal agenda.

“I’m going to get off of that road I’m going back to the high road,” he said.

He also apologized to former GOP Delegate Mike Folk, now a gubernatorial candidate, who was on the floor last Wednesday and advised Porterfield not to employ the bill reading maneuver. Porterfield then retaliated against Folk by unsuccessfully attempting to have Folk’s floor privileges permanently suspended.

Porterfield also wrapped  Steele, the clerks who had to read the full bills, the state GOP and his constituents into his extended apology, saying his Christian priorities weren’t right. He was unaware of any pending disciplinary action but chose to apologize as the result of prayers and counsel from others.

“The spirit of narcissism and being full of pride is probably one of the biggest challenges I have as a Christian,” he said.

Porterfield closed by leading the whole House in prayer, asking God for forgiveness.

But not all was healed.

Members will frequently ask for remarks by other members to be printed in what’s called the appendix to the House Journal. It’s typically noncontroversial but this time, when Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, asked to have Porterfield’s remarks printed, someone objected and it had to go to a vote.

Fast’s motion passed 92-3 with Porterfield and Delegates Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, and Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, voting no.

Porterfield earned national attention last year by making an anti-gay slur in a committee meeting and saying in an interview that if his own children came out, he would see if they knew how to swim.

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