Court of Claims Says Pothole Bills Up, Prison Bills Down
Members of the Senate Finance Committee took up a bill Thursday they see every year, a bill to settle some of the state’s small claims law suit debts. This year lawmakers found out they owe substantially less than previous years, though, because of a reform bill passed two years ago.
House Bill 2876 is short titled the Court of Claims bill. The court hears citizen claims of damages against the state and awards compensations in verdicts to pay for anything from pothole damages to wrongful death suits.
The bill proposed for the 2016 budget has a $1.5 million total from the state’s general revenue, special revenue and road funds.
Cheryle Hall, administrator of the West Virginia Court of Claims, told lawmakers the bill is substantially less than in year’s past because of the 2013 Justice Reinvestment Act and the decrease in overcrowding in the state’s prisons.
“Normally we have a multimillion dollar claim by the Regional Jails against the Division of Corrections for inmates that are held up in Regional Jail Facilities,” Hall explained.
The RJA typically files a suit when the Division of Corrections can’t pay the bill from their budget. This year, however, Hall said the funds were available, saving the state some $3 million.
Claims went up, however, in another area the court often deals with, damages to West Virginians’ cars from potholes. Hall said this year the bill contains more than a thousand claims against the Division of Highways, up exponentially from the 300 or so they receive in a normal calendar year.
Senate Finance Chair Mike Hall said those totals are indicative of the lack of funding for road maintenance in the state, something he’d like to see tackled by a road bond to fund all new construction. The State Road Fund, Halls said, could then be dedicated to maintaining West Virginia’s 39,000 miles of highways and county routes.
“Right now, new construction and maintenance compete for money,” he said after the meeting, “and I know that sooner rather than later, and hopefully not until the next legislative session, will get together and focus on the concept of roads.”
Members of the Finance Committee have called on the governor to share with them the recommendations from his year long Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways’ study on funding state roads.
Hall said without the final recommendations, lawmakers still know what they need and that’s more revenue, but that the public should have some input in how those revenues are made.
Under pressure from the legislature, those final Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations are expected possibly next week.
The Court of Claims bill was approved by committee and now goes to the full Senate.