Special legislative session ends with funds for corrections, consolidated state lab

Over 30 bills passed both houses of the legislature and are awaiting the governor’s signature.
Special legislative session ends with funds for corrections, and a consolidated state lab.
Published: Aug. 13, 2023 at 9:09 PM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - The West Virginia legislature wrapped up their first special session of the year on Wednesday.

Over 30 bills passed both houses of the legislature and are awaiting the governor’s signature.

The legislators set aside $125 million for the development of a consolidated state lab.

The consolidated lab is a project favored by Governor Jim Justice that would put several medical labs in the state -- like the state medical examiner’s office and the state police lab -- under one roof.

Wood County Delegate Vernon Criss said a consolidated lab would improve the efficiency and coordination between different labs and agencies. “Part of the legislature went to Kentucky two years ago and looked at a building where they did that. And based upon that, and based upon understanding construction, having one facility with multiple labs in it makes a lot better sense than scattered out throughout.”

Plans for a consolidated lab in the state go back a number of years. Criss saids that the $125 million the legislature approved during their special session is the second half of funding for the consolidated lab.

There is not a set date for when further development of the lab will begin.

During the special session, lawmakers also made millions of dollars available to fund raises for corrections workers.

“Being a corrections officer is difficult,” said Delegate Moore Capito (R - Kanawha, District 55). “And we know that the pay is way out of step, so we put in and implemented pay raises for our corrections folks, the folks that are working every day in very, very difficult environments, and in an environment that in state government right now is wildly understaffed.”

In total, the legislature put over $20 million toward raises for correctional officers. They also approved bonuses of almost $3,000 for other jail staff who aren’t correctional officers.

Capito saids these raises are supposed to address staffing vacancies in the state Division of Corrections. “We have to make sure that we not only retain the folks that are in there right now, but we have to be able to attract new ones with an attractive package,” he said.

Capito saids raises alone will probably not be totally sufficient to address staffing and other issues in corrections. “With corrections, it’s not unlike many of the other parts of state government, you can’t just throw money at it,” Capito said. “It’s like education. We know that just throwing money at the problem doesn’t work.”

Delegate Vernon Criss (R - Wood, District 12) said the issues with staffing in corrections are part of a broader, national trend of labor shortages. “It doesn’t seem to be just in the government services that we provide, but it’s also in private business,” Criss said. “We’re all having the same problem. There are a tremendous amount of jobs out there, even in our own community, there is a tremendous amount of jobs. But people, when they find out what they have to do to maintain those jobs, it just doesn’t seem to want to fit in their criteria.”

Both Capito and Criss said the division of corrections may be revisited in the next regular legislative session to address other problems.