Floor sessions in both the House and the Senate are governed in large part by the rules of the body and constitutional requirements, and are conducted according to strict parliamentary procedures. A routine agenda, or Order of Business, is followed daily as the basic structure for a floor session.
Note: Each item of business is taken up, dealt and dispensed with in the sequence shown. If an issue is to be brought up after the body has moved beyond the appropriate order of business, the members must agree to return to that order of business to take care of the matter.
Reading of Bills
The Clerk of each House places bills on a calendar. A calendar is actually a listing of what will be taken upon a given day usually under three orders of business, bills on third reading, bills on second reading and bills on first reading.
The reading of bills generally occur on three separate days as stipulated in the State Constitution. However, the constitutional rule may be suspended by a four-fifths vote of the membership, allowing two or three readings of a bill to take place on one day.
When a bill is read, the reading clerk recites the bill number, the title, or a brief summary of the measure. If a bill is not delayed on first or second reading, the bill is “advanced” to the next reading stage once the body completes its action.
A bill is read three times to accomplish three different purposes:
The First reading of a bill is called the information stage, informing the members that the bill will be discussed.
On Second reading, or amendment stage, any committee recommendations and changes proposed by individual members are discussed and acted on. It is the amendments, and not the bill itself, that are debated on second reading. Each amendment is voted on separately, with no limit to the number of amendments that may be offered, and are adopted or rejected. After second reading, a bill is “ordered to engrossment and third reading.” An engrossed version of a bill includes all adopted amendments.
Third reading is the passage stage of a bill. Debate on the merits and drawbacks of a bill occurs at this time. After debate is completed, the bill is either passed or rejected.
If the bill is passed, it is sent to the other chamber of the Legislature where it is referred to committee and the process repeats itself.
Action by the Governor
While the Legislature is in session, the Governor has five days to approve or veto a bill he receives. After the Legislature adjourns, the Governor has 15 days to act on most bills before him. However, the budget bill and supplemental appropriations bills must be acted on by the Governor within five days of adjournment, regardless of when he receives them. If the Governor does not act within these time limits, the bill automatically becomes law.
If the Governor vetoes a bill, the Legislature can override the veto with a majority vote of both houses. The exceptions to this exist with the budget bill or a supplemental appropriations bill. A two-thirds vote of both houses is needed to override a Governor’s veto in these instances.
In all cases, once both houses pass the same version of a bill, it becomes an enrolled bill and is sent to the Governor for his consideration.
After a bill becomes a law, it is called an act. The “Acts of the Legislature” are published annually and reflect all of the measures that become law in a given year. The acts are inserted into the appropriate portions of the West Virginia Code, which is a series of books containing the laws of the state.
While most matters taken up by the Legislature are in the form of bills, there is another kind of legislative proposal known as a resolution. There are actually three types of resolutions, none of which require action by the Governor.
A joint resolution is the first step to making a change in the State Constitution. The adoption of a joint resolution by the Legislature means that a suggested amendment to the constitution is placed on the ballot at the next general election or special election for the voters to decide. The Legislature only decides that the issue should be placed before the voters, not whether the change should or does occur.
Joint resolutions are referred to committee and when they are reported back go through the same three readings as bills. Joint resolutions must be read on three separate days and must receive a two-thirds vote of the elected members in order to be adopted.
Concurrent resolutions are measures affecting the actions or procedures of both bodies. These resolutions may express the sentiments of the Legislature, authorize expenditures incidental to the session and business of the Legislature, agree upon the adjournments beyond the constitutional limitation, create special joint committees, raise a joint assembly or address other purposes which speak on behalf of both chambers.
Simple resolutions are used to express the will or order of one house on matters in which the agreement of the other house is not necessary, such as the hiring of staff for one body.
Concurrent and simple resolutions are read only once before being adopted or rejected.
Methods of Voting
In committee meetings and during floor sessions, issues are decided by votes cast by members. Votes may be taken in one of three ways: roll call vote (also termed “calling for the yeas and nays,”) voice vote, and division vote. The presiding officer or committee chairperson generally determines which method of voting will be used unless a member requests another type of vote.
A roll call vote records how each member in attendance actually stands on an issue. In a committee meeting, each member’s name is called and the vote is recorded in the minutes of the meeting. During a floor session, voting machines are used and votes are recorded on the display boards at the front of each chamber.
In an effort to save time, a voice vote is sometimes used. The presiding officer or chair simply asks all those in favor of a measure to say “aye” and all those opposed to say “no.” After hearing the response, the presiding officer states the result determining which side prevails.
The third type of voting is called the division vote. When a division vote is taken, members are asked to rise at their seats. A head count is taken of those for and against the motion being voted on and the numbers are recorded without individual names.
A different number of votes is needed for certain actions to be approved in one or both legislative bodies.
The following is offered as a quick reference for the number of votes required in certain circumstances:
In general, the minimal number of votes needed of the full membership of each house to adopt or pass a measure is:
Simple Majority: House 51, Senate 18
Two-thirds: House 67, Senate 23
Four-fifths: House 80, Senate 28
The House Journal is printed following the day’s floor proceedings. The Journal reflects the transcripts of floor action of the day’s previous session. The Journal includes an abstract of bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions and simple resolutions. Immediately following these listings are actions taken on bills and resolutions, first by the house of origin and then by the second body. As the session progresses, bills in conference (including the names of the conferees) and actions by the governor are also detailed in the Journal. A weekly topical index is also published, listing bills introduced by subject matter.
The Senate Journals and the Acts of the West Virginia Legislature are distributed through the Senate Clerk’s Office. For further information, please call 357-7800.
The Senate Journal is printed following the day’s floor proceedings. The Journal reflects the transcripts of floor action of the day’s previous session. The Journal includes a topical index, abstract of bills, Joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions and simple resolutions. Immediately following these listings are actions taken on bills and resolutions, first by the house of origin and then by the second body. As the session progresses, bills in conference (including the names of the conferees) and actions by the governor are also detailed in the Journal. The calendar for each day’s floor session is printed at the back of each Journal.
Each year, the Clerk’s Office merges all of the floor proceedings into one bound Journal. The bound Journals also contain the proceedings from any extraordinary session that may be called during the course of the year. Abstracts or “Bill Histories” and topical indexes are included in the bound Journal.
The House and Senate Manual is published by the House Clerk at the beginning of each new Legislature. Contained within the manual are photos and biographies of each member of the current Legislature, Rules of the House and Senate and both state and federal constitutions.
Privileges of the Floor
Only current and former members of the Legislature, members of Congress, legislative personnel engaged in the proper discharge of their duties and accredited members of the press are permitted within the Chambers while the Senate and House are in session. Former members who are lobbyists are not permitted in the Chambers while the Senate and House are in session. Spouses are not permitted in the Chambers during sessions. House Rule 136 and Senate Rule 54 are specific as to persons admitted to the floor and members’ gallery. The provisions of these rules are serious and a violation can result in the censure of a member.