CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee has given the OK to a bill that would increase fees on court filings and lawyers to help fund state Supreme Court elections.
The legislation, House Bill 2732, passed the House of Delegates 65-35 on March 2.
The bill would increase funding for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Public Campaign Financing Pilot Program, which was created last year. The program was designed to ensure that individuals and committees who contribute large sums of money don't have an undue influence on the political process.
According to an earlier version of the bill, revenue from the following sources would be deposited in the Supreme Court campaign fund:
* All exploratory and qualifying contributions in excess of the established maximums;
* Money returned by participating or certified candidates who fail to comply with the provisions of this article;
* Unspent or unobligated moneys allotted to certified candidates and remaining unspent or unobligated on the date of the general election for which the money was distributed;
* If a certified candidate loses, all remaining unspent or unobligated moneys after the primary election;
* Civil penalties levied by the State Election Commission against candidates for violations of this article;
* Civil penalties levied by the Secretary of State pursuant to section seven, article eight of this chapter;
* Voluntary donations made directly to the fund;
* Interest income;
* On or before July 1, 2010, and for two successive years thereafter, the State Auditor shall authorize the transfer of the amount of $1 million from the Purchasing Card Administration Fund established in section 10D, article three, chapter 12 of this code to the fund created by this article;
* Money appropriated to the fund; and
* On or before July 1, 2011, the unclaimed property administrator of the State Treasurer's Office shall transfer the amount of $2 million from the Unclaimed Property Trust Fund to the fund created by this article.
Also, a fee of $10 is assessed on certain civil actions filed in circuit court. The circuit court clerk, according to the bill, shall collect and remit the fees to the State Treasurer to be deposited in the fund each month.
The same is to be done with those $20 fees assessed on each party in a class action lawsuit filed in circuit court, those $10 fees assessed on each plaintiff in a divorce action filed in family court, and those $10 fees on each plaintiff in a civil action filed in magistrate court.
In addition, beginning in fiscal year 2011-12, the West Virginia State Bar shall assess every attorney licensed to practice law in West Virginia a fee "for the fair administration of justice" to be deposited into the Supreme Court campaign fund as follows:
* Attorneys licensed to practice law for three years or less, $50;
* Attorneys licensed to practice law for more than three years, $75; and
* Attorneys licensed to practice law on inactive status, $65.
According to The Associated Press, committee members took out the fees for lawyers and class-action lawsuits before sending the measure to the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.