W.Va. Lawmakers Vote to Lower Judgement Interest

Mar 18, 2017

West Virginians would pay less in interest on unpaid court judgments under a bill approved by state lawmakers.

The measure, approved 25-8 by the Senate on Friday, would set the rate at 2 percent above an annually set Federal Reserve rate, down from 3 percent.

It would lower the range of possible rates to a minimum of 4 percent and maximum of 9 percent — down from 7 and 11 percent.

The rates are intended to reflect current economic conditions, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump. The Morgan County Republican disputed criticism that it creates incentives for wrongdoers to avoid paying.

Sen. Mike Romano, a Clarksburg Democrat who opposed the change, said West Virginia's rate was already in the middle of what states have set, and most of these lawsuits and judgments involve businesses.

The House unanimously approved the legislation two weeks ago.

The Republican-controlled Senate on Friday also passed legislation requiring the governor to fill vacancies in West Virginia's other statewide offices — secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general and commissioner of agriculture — from candidates in the same political party.

Gov. Jim Justice is a Democrat. Those other posts are all held currently by Republicans.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, a Charleston Democrat and attorney, opposes it. He said the measure was purely partisan by Republicans and in violation of the state constitution that gives the governor authority to fill those vacancies.

Trump disagreed. He said the constitution doesn't prohibit legislators from enacting that law. The bill now goes to the House.

Palumbo also objected to legislation the Senate advanced Friday to remove property tax breaks for wind-power projects. He offered an amendment to end preferential tax breaks for what he called "hundreds of sweetheart deals," not just wind projects, which the Senate defeated by voice vote.

Also Friday, the Senate gave final legislative approval to setting criminal punishments for sex and other human trafficking, giving immunity from prosecution for minors who are victims.

The Senate also approved a House-passed bill intended to clarify the right-to-work law enacted last year, removing provisions that would seem to exempt building and construction trade unions. Enforcement has been blocked by a court injunction in a lawsuit brought by unions.

The labor unions maintain the law illegally takes their assets since they still have to represent all employees in a union shop including those that the law would allow to stop paying union dues.

The House on Friday voted 94-5 to limit regulation of some smaller above-ground storage tanks holding brine and crude oil from gas drilling.

On Tuesday, the House voted 58-41 to end funding for the Courtesy Patrol roadside-assistance program that operates 16 hours each day, mostly in the evening and overnight hours.