- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia lawmakers capped a three-day special session Wednesday with a deal to restore more than $1 million for social services programs.

The money would be used for child abuse prevention, domestic violence services and early childhood assistance that were cut out by the governor’s vetoes.

Heading into a tight budget year, Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin originally nixed more than $1 million worth of social programs. He restored $260,000 earlier this month.

The Our Children, Our Future Campaign estimated that 80 jobs would have been lost with $800,000 in cuts. Advocacy groups warned millions more in federal and private matching funds would also disappear.

“Kids and families made their voices heard, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle listened,” said Stephen Smith, Our Children, Our Future Steering Committee member.

Lawmakers freed up additional money from the state assistance for horse and dog racetracks. The House unanimously passed the bill, while one senator voted against the budget reshuffling.

Tomblin told reporters Wednesday that he worked with the House and Senate on the deal.

His main concern when he vetoed the money, he said, was diving too much into state reserves. The budget that takes effect July 1 already takes out $100 million from the Rainy Day Fund, Tomblin’s veto letter states.

The agreement came as a surprise Wednesday when offered as a House floor amendment. Tomblin’s call for a special session didn’t involve social services funding.

Sen. Herb Snyder, the lone dissenting vote, argued that the Legislature didn’t have the legal right to uncork the money.

“I maintain that’s an illegal expenditure of funds because the state does not own that money,” said Snyder, D-Jefferson. “It’s statutorily set to go someplace else.”

Delegate John McCuskey said the cuts would hurt horse and dog tracks, but restoring social services money was a higher priority.

“I believe that the government’s role, if nothing else, is to make sure that we’re protecting the people who can’t protect themselves,” said McCuskey, R-Kanawha.

During the special session, lawmakers also retooled an increase to the minimum wage that passed earlier this year. The changes that passed would exempt certain employers from state maximum hours and overtime requirements.

The law still raises the $7.25 hourly minimum wage by 75 cents a year in Jan. 2015 and by another 75 cents in Jan. 2016.

Lawmakers cleared a supplemental appropriations bill that would allow the Courtesy Patrol to receive up to $4.7 million, instead of flatly receiving $4.7 million annually. The funding would come from the Tourism Promotion Fund.

The Courtesy Patrol is a welfare-to-work initiative that provides roadside assistance to motorists in West Virginia.

Other bills included more minor changes.

Tomblin has to sign special session bills, including the social services budget bill, before they can become law.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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