CHARLESTON — Future pay hikes for elected county officials would be approved at the local level in a Senate bill that passed Tuesday by a narrow margin.

The idea is to throw the responsibility of setting pay scales into the hands of county commissions, rather than leaving such decisions with the Legislature, Sen. Ed Bowman, D-Hancock, said.

“As you recognize right now, what we do in the legislative body, we must authorize pay raises for all county officials,” Bowman said.

In the future, however, if SB775 becomes law, he noted, county commissions must vote on any pay increases.

The measure is apart from a separate House bill that would provide an immediate $10,000 salary increase to elected county officials.

“It’s their money,” Bowman said of the Senate measure. “It’s not our money. It basically allows for local empowerment.”

Bowman gained approval of amendments designed to clear away any constitutional issues surrounding the bill.

“We have worked that out,” the senator said.

“Counsel has done a great deal of research on that to assure this.”

Senators approved the bill on an 18-15 vote that transcended party lines.

In favor were President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, and Sens. Billy Wayne Bailey, D-Wyoming; Frank Deem, R-Wood; Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel; John Pat Fanning, D-McDowell; Steve Harrison, R-Kanawha; Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas; Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell; Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall; Shirley Love, D-Fayette; Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha; Andy McKenzie, R-Ohio; Robert Plymale, D-Wayne; Roman Prezioso, D-Marion; Russ Weeks, R-Raleigh; Randy White, D-Webster; Truman Chafin, D-Mingo; and Bowman.

Opposing it were Sens. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph; Donna Boley, R-Pleasants; Don Caruth, R-Mercer; Tracy Dempsey, D-Lincoln; Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson; Dan Foster, D-Kanawha; Jesse Guills, R-Greenbrier; Jon Blair Hunter, D-Monongalia; Joseph Minard, D-Harrison; Sarah Minear, R-Tucker; Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia; William Sharpe, D-Lewis; Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha; John Unger, D-Berkeley; and John Yoder, R-Jefferson.

Sen. Charles Lanham, R-Mason, was absent.

In other action, the Senate held its ground on an amendment to a House resolution on coal liquefaction projects.

Delegates drew it along narrow confines, suggesting any such projects in Gov. Joe Manchin’s initiative be considered exclusively for coal-rich southern counties.

But the Senate, led by Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, wanted to broaden the scope so that other areas would be considered if such facilities were built.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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