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W.Va. lawmakers back off prevailing wage repeal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lawmakers and labor leaders are negotiating a change in how prevailing wage is calculated in West Virginia.

A bill seeking to repeal prevailing wage, which is the wage paid to workers on public works projects such as roads and schools, was held over for one day Monday and will continue today on second reading.

Majority Leader Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, made the request to give all interested parties more time to negotiate.

Carmichael said lawmakers are no longer looking to repeal the law, but rather recalculate prevailing wage and set a threshold to determine which projects would make use of prevailing wage.

Officials have said prevailing wage, as calculated by the state, is always much higher than the market wage paid for private projects, and costs government entities and taxpayers several times the amount of money it would otherwise have cost.

“In our discussion there was a broad recognition from every side on this issue that the current system is broken,” Carmichael said. “The unions have readily conceded the current calculation is broken, and in the past nobody has been able to concede that.”

Carmichael said he expects to see a revised bill come to and be approved by the Senate this week.

Senators Monday approved a piece of tort reform legislation. House Bill 2002, which is similar to Senate Bills 2 and 103, gives guidance for determining damages using comparative fault.

Sen. Charlie Trump, R-Morgan, who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the bill helps the courts deal with situations in which multiple defendants are found to be at fault but only some can pay. Trump said the bill attempts to spread around the liability rather than targeting all of it onto one or two individuals.

“If one is 95 percent liable and the other is 5 percent, but the 95 percent is insolvent, cannot pay, under the existing law it is all paid by the one who is 5 percent responsible,” he said. “There are many who believe, and I believe correctly, that was unfair. (With the new bill) I think what we’ve got is a good middle ground.”

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, introduced an amendment which would exempt from further liability defendants who settle, thereby removing themselves from the court process. Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, argued for the amendment, saying settlements help companies avoid massive litigation costs, but open them up to accusations by those still defending themselves in court.

Senators struck down the proposed change, with lawmakers voting along party lines.

The Senate approved an amendment which struck out most of the House language and replaced it with language from the Senate. The piece of legislation approved Monday likely will return to a committee because it varies dramatically from the original House-proposed bill.

Carmichael called the comparative fault bill “probably the most substantive piece of tort reform that has gone through the Senate to this point.”

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