CHARLESTON – Two bills that would increase the number of circuit and family judges each have passed one legislative branch.

Senate Bill 400, which was passed 26-7, would increase the number of circuit judges by five. Wayne, Mercer, Mingo and Monongalia counties each would get one new judge, as would the circuit that includes Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties.

The bill would not change the boundaries of the state's 31 circuits, an issue mentioned by those who voted against the measure. The West Virginia Judicial Association, however, had recommended against changing those boundaries.

The House of Delegates, meanwhile, unanimously passed House Bill 3106 to add 10 family court judges and redo nine of those 26 circuits.

In other news, the House passed an amended version of Gov. Joe Machin's prescription drug bill on Feb. 27

House Bill 3164 was altered so much that Manchin no longer supports the proposal, which would add to the powers of the state pharmaceutical advocate. The person in that job is supposed to talk with pharmaceutical companies to negotiate lower prices on behalf of the state.

On Feb. 23, the House Finance Committee amended the measure to require drug companies to disclose detailed marketing and advertising costs. That would include names of doctors to whom they market their products.

West Virginia would be required to join other states so at least 5 million people would be helped before the pharmaceutical advocate could seek to negotiate prices for public payers such as the state Public Employees Insurance Agency, according to the Associated Press.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America says the bill could actually increase drug costs and could make some drugs more difficult to obtain in the state.

"It's a bad idea," Marjorie Powell, senior assistant general council for PhRMA, said Tuesday. "It gets the state involved in negotiating prices for prescription drugs.

"Buying prescription drugs isn't like buying pens. You can't just say, 'I'm going to buy the cheapest one.'"

Powell said the state should focus on other health care issues because prescription drugs only account for 10 cents of every health care dollar spent.

"The state would be better off if it spent this time and money focusing on health care coverage plans," she said. "This bill gets the state itself involved in deciding which drugs are given out at which price."

Powell said PhRMA's concerns with the bill include the price control system and the fact that the pharmaceutical advocate would exclude the cost of advertising.

"Grants to Marshall University and WVU would be included as advertising costs," Powell said. "That doesn't encourage investment in basic research in West Virginia. And it doesn't encourage pharmaceutical companies to enter into agreements with WVU and MU."

Powell said the bottom line is simple.

"Pharmaceutical companies are committed to making sure patients have access to the drugs they need," she said. "If this bill passes, it ultimately is the patient who will suffer the most."

On another business-related note, the Senate also unanimously passed proposals that would trim the corporate net income tax from 8.75 percent to 6.5 percent by next January, would eliminate the business franchise tax over seven years, would simplify tax accounting for companies and would provide an intellectual property tax credit.

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