CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A bill that would establish an intermediate court system in West Virginia won approval in the Senate on Thursday and awaits the signature of Republican Gov. Jim Justice.
The proposal cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when it passed the House of Delegates, where it has been introduced and stalled in each of the past several years. This year, Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers and the legislation has mostly received opposition from Democrats. Senators passed the bill on a 21-12 vote.
Critics said the intermediate court system would be wasteful spending and add another layer of government in a time of a tight state budget. They also said the state Supreme Court is not overburdened to the extent the system needs to be expanded.
They argued the money is better spent in areas such as relieving an overburdened foster care system, helping senior citizens, or establishing drug and family courts or a court for abuse and neglect cases.
Supporters of the bill said the lack of an intermediate court system creates unpredictability. A group called West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said it would “provide relief to the current judiciary, by reviewing civil cases between the circuit court and Supreme Court.”
Nine states currently have no intermediate court system.
The new court would hear appeals of civil judgments from circuit courts as well as decisions from family courts and workers compensation rulings. It would not hear criminal cases.
The House version would create one panel of three judges starting in July 2022. Their salaries would be set at $142,500. Senate versions of the bill would have created two intermediate judicial districts.
“This bill in its current form demonstrators how we’re just playing with fire,” said Sen. Mike Romano, a Democrat from Harrison County, criticizing amendments made to the bill in the House of Delegates. “Here we’ve taken six intermediate court judges and made them three, gone from two divisions to one.”