(Morgantown, W.Va.) In the closing hours of the 86th regular session of the West Virginia Legislature, a comprehensive court bill that included magistrate, family, and circuit courts was completed. Pending the governor’s signature, the end result is that Monongalia County will have two new magistrate judges on the 2024 ballot, with one magistrate set to start early, as of July 1, 2023.
H.B. 3332 began in the House of Delegates as a circuit court bill. It was one of a number of pieces of leadership-sponsored legislation with a goal to update courts following the completed legislative redistricting. It was not a bill that Monongalia County Magistrate Ron Bane had been monitoring.
“On crossover day, the situation looked bleak. Hope for immediate relief in Monongalia County magistrate court seemed out of reach,” said Bane. Various pieces of legislation relating to aspects of court reform had passed one chamber or the other, but the comprehensive bill that Bane had been watching, S.B. 482, was stalled in the Senate Finance Committee. “I largely resigned myself to the WV Supreme Court order taking effect as written,” Bane remarked about an administrative order dated January 5, that granted Monongalia County two magistrate judges in 2024 if the legislature didn’t act.
The traditional path, a bill to add one magistrate judge to Monongalia County, as Delegate Joe Statler and others sought via H.B. 3174, always seemed like a longshot, Bane acknowledged, “With thousands of bills proposed each session, getting attention for any one county is a challenge. Joe Statler made a case to legislative and court leaders though, and that spoke volumes, for which I was grateful.”
A comprehensive plan emerged though. Once in the Senate, the H.B. 3332 changed form. A number of strike and insert committee substitutes and a few floor amendments would help to reshape the bill.
Bane noted a text from Senator Mike Oliverio soon after crossover day gave a glint of hope that the effort could be salvaged. “Mike Oliverio previously helped get Monongalia County a fifth magistrate. With help from Charlie Clements, I believed our senators would try to do what they could to help,” said Bane.
The WV Senate passed H.B. 3332 as amended by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, March 9. All that was needed, it seemed, was concurrence from the WV House of Delegates. With only two days remaining though, it was unclear exactly when, or even if, it might get considered. Early in the evening of Saturday, March 11, the House took up the Senate’s message. A floor amendment in the House of Delegates meant the bill must go back to the Senate for concurrence.
Late Saturday though, the almost unthinkable happened. With a nearly unanimous vote, the Senate concurred with House amendments and passed H.B. 3332, which among other things grants Monongalia County a magistrate early starting in July. Bane added, “I’m thankful for so many people, and especially for the resolve our Senators and Delegates showed on behalf of our county and magistrate court.”