The West Virginia Senate is set to vote Monday on $5.6 million in pay raises for judges throughout the state.
If it becomes law, Senate Bill 597 would lift West Virginia from having the third-lowest salaries to rates placing the state roughly in the middle of the pack among the 55 states and territories in the United States.
The bill was on second reading in the Senate Friday. It advanced without any changes at the amendment stage.
If the bill becomes law, it will be the first pay raise since 2011 for magistrates, family court judges, circuit court judges, and West Virginia Supreme Court justices.
The pay raises would take effect over the course of the next two years, on July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, respectively.
Here’s how the proposed pay increases break down.
Supreme Court justices currently make $136,000 a year. If the bill becomes law, justices annually will be paid $160,901 annually.
Circuit judges, who currently make $126,000, will be paid $149,070.
Family court judges would be paid $113,930. Right now, they make $94,500.
Magistrates throughout the state, who currently make $57,500, would be paid $68,038.
Magistrates’ salaries formerly were based on the populations of the counties in which they preside, but the Legislature altered their pay to a flat salary in 2017.
The pay raises in total will cost $5,630,670 annually, according to a fiscal note prepared by the West Virginia Supreme Court.
The pay increase recommendations were the result of the work of the Judicial Compensation Commission, Jeff Johnson, general counsel to Senate Finance, said.
“The reason, primarily, is because they want to encourage qualified people to apply for the job,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We have a number of judges who are in an advanced stage and set to retire, and they wish this to be sort of an incentive for people to run for the positions. They want to make them competitive with our sister states.”
The Commission handed up its recommendations in 2018.
Similar salary increases were proposed in the Senate and House of Delegates in 2019, but neither bill went to a vote in their respective chambers.
Senate Bill 597 cleared both the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees before making its way to the Senate floor this week.
The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday removed a provision from the bill that would have allowed family court judges to be eligible for retirement benefits through the state Judges’ Retirement System.
An entirely separate bill, Senate Bill 246, likewise would provide family court judges access to that retirement system. That bill is pending before the Senate Finance Committee. Currently, family court judges qualify for benefits in the Public Employees Retirement System, all other magistrates and judges receive benefits under the judges’ system.