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Citizen's Guide to the Legislature

The Legislative Process

Composition of the Legislature
A “Citizen Legislature” represents West Virginia. While lawmakers are elected by the people to serve as their representative voice in government, they are also professionals in other occupations. This is known as a part-time Legislature.

It is a bicameral Legislature, meaning that it consists of two bodies, which are the Senate and the House of Delegates.

Thirty-four Senators and 100 Delegates represent state citizens who live in specific areas called districts. These districts are divided according to population and may change if census figures show a growth or loss of population. Presently, West Virginia has 17 senatorial districts and 67 delegate districts. Each citizen in the state has representatives in both the Senate and the House.


Terms of Office & Eligibility
Senators are elected to four-year terms with half of the seats up for election every two years. All members of the House of Delegates are up for election every two years. State lawmakers must be United States citizens and eligible to vote. A delegate must be at least 18 years old and a resident of his/her district for one year while a senator must be at least 25 years old and a resident of the state for five years. If a legislator moves out of his/her district, the seat becomes vacant.

If a vacancy occurs in either house of the Legislature, the governor appoints an individual of the same political party as the departing member to fill the seat until the next general election.


Sessions of the Legislature
Each Legislature is comprised of two sessions with the 77th Legislature consisting of the 2005 and 2006 sessions.

Regular sessions of the Legislature begin on the second Wednesday in January of each year and last for 60 consecutive days. However, in the year a governor is inaugurated a 30-day recess is taken after the first day of the session to allow the governor time to prepare his legislative agenda, including a proposed state budget, for the coming year. In this case, the legislators return on the second Wednesday in February to meet for 60 consecutive days.

On the first day of the 60-day session, members of both the Senate and the House hold a joint session in the House Chamber at which the governor presents his legislative program along with the state’s budget bill. Speaking before the full body in what is called the “State of the State Address,” the governor proposes suggestions as to what key issues he believes the legislators should act on during the session.

Any regular session may be extended by concurrent resolution adopted by a two-thirds vote of members elected to each house. If the session is extended, legislators cannot act on any measures except business stated in the concurrent resolution. The governor must by proclamation, extend the session if the budget bill shall not have been acted upon three days prior to the constitutional expiration of the session.

There are instances when it is necessary for the Legislature to meet between regular sessions. These are termed “Extraordinary,” or Special Sessions. Special Sessions are convened at the discretion of the governor or when the governor receives a written request from three-fifths of the members elected to each house.

The governor announces the convening of a special session through a written proclamation that lists the issues the Legislature may address. This proclamation is referred to as the “call” because it calls the Legislature into session. No items outside of the call may be taken up by the Legislature during an extraordinary session.


Presiding Officers
The Senate and the House of Delegates each elect a leader, or a presiding officer. The leader in the Senate is the President and the House leader is the Speaker.

In managing the work and efficient operations of their chambers, both leaders choose the chair and members for each house’s standing committees, refer legislation to committees and maintain effective communications among their members.

In addition to duties as the presiding officer of the Senate, the President of the Senate is the Lieutenant Governor and the second ranking constitutional officer in West Virginia and succeeds to the office of Governor in the event of a vacancy. The Speaker in the House is next in the line of succession.


Floor Leaders
West Virginia has a two-party political system and membership of both houses includes Democrats and Republicans. Both parties have floor leaders within each house who are the Majority and Minority Leaders and the Majority and Minority Whips. These leaders serve as spokesmen for their party’s political position and, as such, act as liaisons for the leadership with full membership and the members of their party.

Because of the nature of the presiding officers’ responsibilities, the President and the Speaker appoint a Majority Leader and Majority Whip for their respective chambers. While both of these floor leaders act to communicate and promote the party’s position, the Majority Leader takes the more visible role during a floor session.

The Majority Leader moves to delay or hasten the consideration of a bill, comments on legislation from the majority party perspective, and moves to recess or adjourn.

A Minority Leader is selected by the minority members of each body, who in turn appoints the party’s Minority Whip. Like their majority counterparts, they serve as spokesmen for their party and act to coordinate the minority party members’ platform. Both the Majority and Minority Leaders move to caucus. During this informal meeting party members outline party policies and develop floor strategies. Members of the opposite party, the press and public are excluded from this closed meeting. Although all of these floor leaders may attempt to influence a member’s vote, legislators take their own stance when speaking or voting on issues.

Two additional members of the leadership team are the President pro Tempera and the Speaker pro Tempore. These individuals are appointed by the President and the Speaker to assume the chair should either of the presiding officers be absent or leave their post to address the members from the floor.


Caucuses
The Senate and the House of Delegates have two types of caucuses:
1. Party Organization Caucus - the respective party chairmen call the party organization caucus for a date and time traditionally set on a Sunday in December following a general election. The purpose of the party organization caucus is to officially form the party blocs and to nominate candidates for the respective elective officers of the House and Senate, i.e., Speaker and President, Clerks, Sergeants-At-Arms and Doorkeepers. Minority candidates for Speaker and President become the Minority Leader of their respective party.

The party organization is called to order by the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the party, who then designates a temporary chairman of the organization caucus, by tradition the member with the most continuous legislative service. The temporary chairman then designates a secretary of the caucus to assist in the clerical business of the proceedings.

The call of the Chairman of the party is read to the members and a list is presented to the caucus showing the delegates-elect appearing to have been elected as disclosed by the general election results. The roll is called to determine the presence of a quorum, which is a simple majority of the constituent memberships, or one-half plus one of the total number of elected party members to which the body is entitled as disclosed by the election returns.

The caucus then adopts rules of procedure to govern its proceedings. Generally, these rules are the standing rules of the House of Delegates and the Senate, with two modifications: the vote is by secret ballot and a time limit is imposed for nominating and seconding speeches.

At the end of nominations for each candidate a motion to close nominations for that office is entertained. The Chair then appoints tellers to distribute the ballots. Members deposit their ballots in a box provided in the front of the chamber or the tellers collect the ballots. The ballots are opened and counted in the presence of the entire caucus. Nominations for uncontested offices are by acclamation of the caucus. This procedure is followed for each officer to be nominated by the caucus.

Generally, there is no other business considered by the party organization caucus.

2. Party Caucus - A party caucus is called at the direction of the party leadership. These caucuses are designed primarily to give the parties a chance to discuss party strategy and position on issues. The Majority Whip and the Minority Whip of the respective parties generally chair the caucus.

The party leadership holding the caucus sets the agenda. Decisions made by the caucuses are not binding upon the members and caucuses are not open to the public. No formal record is published of caucus proceedings and the voting machine is not used.

The standing rules of order of the House and Senate govern proceedings of the caucus. However, the caucus may determine its own individually tailored rules or practices regarding its proceedings, provided that such rules are in keeping with accepted parliamentary law and practice as it evolved in the Legislature.


Bill Development
Bills are proposed laws. They are ideas or ways to correct or address problems in the State. While any individual or group may have an idea for a bill, only a legislator may sponsor a bill and introduce it into the legislative process.

Once the legislator decides to sponsor a bill, an initial draft of the idea may be sent to the Office of Legislative Services for final drafting in proper and consistent bill form. To draft a bill on a particular subject the appropriate portions of the West Virginia law are combined with the proposed changes.


Introduction of a Bill
A bill is formally introduced on the floor of the House or the Senate when the Clerk reads its title and the Speaker or the President announces the committee reference. The presiding officer of each house determines the committee reference for a bill. A bill may have more than one committee reference based on its subject matter and its fiscal implications. The deadline for introduction of joint resolutions and bills, other than a supplemental appropriation or bill originating in committee, is the forty-first (41st) day in the Senate and the House. (For more information refer to Senate Rule 14 and House Rule 91a).


Bill Sponsorship
In the House, Rule 94 allows for a bill to be introduced bearing the names of not more than seven Members as joint sponsors of the bill. In the Senate, there is no limit of the number of sponsors.


Introduction of Bills by Request
House Rule 94a and Senate Rule 15 allow for a bill to be introduced by request. This allows a Member of the Legislature to introduce a bill for a constituent or constituent group that the Member may not necessarily support.

After the draft legislation is prepared, the sponsor reviews and submits it to the Clerk of the chamber of which he/she is a member. The Clerk assigns a number to the bill and the presiding officer of the body names the committee or committees that will study the bill.


Bill Carryover
Any bill or joint resolution pending in the House at the adjournment of the First Regular Session of the Legislature or Extended First Regular Session, which has not been rejected, tabled, or postponed indefinitely, shall carry over as it was introduced to the Second Regular Session at the request of the sponsor or cosponsors of the bill or resolution. The request must be made to the Clerk of the House not later than ten days before the commencement of the Second Regular Session.

The bill or joint resolution shall retain its original number and be introduced on the first day of the Second Regular Session, and unless otherwise directed by the Speaker, shall be referred to the committee or committees to which it was originally referred.

In the case of any House bill or resolution, which has been passed or adopted by the House, such bill or resolution shall be introduced and referred unless otherwise directed by the Speaker, to the committee or committees to which it was originally referred.

This rule does not apply to the following cases.

To any bill or joint resolution when the sole sponsor, or any one of the several sponsors, of the bill or resolution is not serving in the House during the Second Regular Session.

To supplemental appropriation or budget bills, to legislative rule-making bills, to bills to expire or continue state agencies (Sunset Bills), to local bills, or to any joint resolution introduced during any extraordinary session.


Amendments to Bills
Amendments must be put in writing in the designated format and be submitted to the Clerk. Committee amendments are always considered prior to any other amendments. The following rules pertain to amendments and the motion to amend.

Takes precedence only over the motion to which it applies.

An amendment may be amended (amendment to an amendment), but NOT beyond the second degree. Thus, an amendment to an amendment cannot be amended.

An amendment may be divided if it contains two propositions which can stand on their own, except a motion to strike out and insert is indivisible.

Must be pertinent to the question to be amended, and the presiding officer decides propriety of amendments, subject to appeal.

To table, postpone or refer an amendment to a main question is the same as tabling, postponing or referring the main question itself.


Substitute Bills (Com. Sub.)
A committee may change a bill completely and substitute entirely new provisions so long as the bill remains relevant to the title and the subject of the original bill. Other than retaining the number of the original bill, a substitute bill shall be considered as a new bill, but it does not have to be referred to the committee again. However, the committee may recommend that the substitute bill be referred to a second committee. Upon the body’s receiving a report recommending a substitute bill, such bill shall be treated as any other bill reported from committee.


Originating Bills in Committee
Committees may originate and introduce bills respecting any matters referred to them and within their general scope. Unless the body directs otherwise, a bill introduced by a committee with the accompanying recommendation shall be placed on the calendar without committee reference.


The Acts of the Legislature
As the name implies, these bound volumes contain the bills (or “Acts”) that become law in a given year. These volumes include legislation from both the regular and any extraordinary sessions that may occur.

While the West Virginia Code contains the current law, people may request a copy of the law as it was passed for comparison purposes. This reference source may be a more convenient source of information, particularly if the bill/act altered several portions of the West Virginia Code even though it was one piece of legislation.

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Legislative Process

    › Composition of the Legislature
    › Terms of Office & Eligibility
    › Sessions of the Legislature
    › Presiding Officers
    › Floor Leaders
    › Caucuses
    › Bill Development
    › Introduction of a Bill
    › Bill Sponsorship
    › Introduction of Bills by Request
    › Bill Carryover
    › Amendments to Bills
    › Substitute Bills (Com. Sub.)
    › Originating Bills in Committee
    › The Acts of the Legislature

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