CHARLESTON (AP) — A West Virginia lawmaker collected his pay for this year’s regular session while missing the entire 60-day proceeding.
Delegate Joshua Nelson, R-Boone, a member of the West Virginia Air National Guard, was attending flight training in Texas while the Legislature was meeting in Charleston.
Nelson also missed 367 or 470 votes taken on the House floor during the 2013 session because he was on another training assignment.
State law requires that legislators be paid $15,000 for each regular legislative session — regardless of how many days they attend.
“Being in the Legislature, regardless of what they’re required to do, if they have to miss or something like that, the salary doesn’t change,” Nelson told the Sunday Gazette-Mail in a telephone interview from Del Rio, Texas.
He said he donated his $15,000 salary for this year’s session to churches and community organizations in the county. He said he could not provide details about the donations without coming home.
He said his wife, Brittany, handles his finances.
Nelson said he isn’t the first state lawmaker to accept legislative pay while serving in the National Guard.
“I’m in the same situation Senator Erik Wells was when he was in Afghanistan,” Nelson said.
Wells, D-Kanawha, spent eight months in Afghanistan in 2011 as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He missed legislative interim meetings but his service did not overlap with the 2011 regular session. Legislators aren’t paid when absent from interim sessions.
Wells said he would not have collected his legislative pay if he had been in Afghanistan when the Legislature was in session.
Boone County Clerk Sue Ann Zickafoose, who also is chairwoman of the county’s Democratic Party, said county residents had no one to speak for them following the Jan. 9 chemical spill that contaminated the water supply in Boone and eight other counties.
Nelson said he tries to stay in touch with constituents, despite being “extremely busy with what I’m doing right now” in flight training school.
“If somebody calls me, I call them back when I have time,” he said. “I’m doing as much as I can to keep up with legislation back home. Sometimes the mission takes us away, but we do the best we can.”
House Minority Whip Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said it was a challenge for Nelson to serve both in the Guard and the Legislature.
“I certainly am a little frustrated that he couldn’t be there, but I understand certain commitments take you away whenever you serve in the Guard,” Cowles told the newspaper.