The West Virginia Constitution sets forth an organization consisting of three branches of government having separate but equal powers. The legislative branch makes the law, the executive branch enforces the law and the judicial branch interprets the law.
Laws affect everyone and as such are made on the basis of improving and protecting the quality of life for all state citizens, now and in the years to come.
This section of your legislative guide examines the state’s lawmaking branch of government, the West Virginia Legislature. It is designed to explain not only how our laws are made, but also who makes them, and when and where the lawmaking process takes place.
Composition of the Legislature
West Virginia is represented by a “citizen legislature.” Elected by the people to serve as their representative voice in government, our lawmakers are also professionals in other occupations and are not full-time legislators. Not more than two dozen of these legislators have ever had any experience in the insurance industry.
It is a bicameral Legislature, meaning that it consists of two bodies. These 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 40 delegate districts. Each citizen in the state has representatives in both the Senate and the House. Rosters of both the Senate and the House of Delegates are included in our website
TERMS OF OFFICE AND ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS
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. Additionally, a delegate must be a resident of his 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 district, the seat is vacated.
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 70th Legislature consisting of the 1991 and 1992 sessions.
Regular sessions of the Legislature begin on the second Wednesday in January of each year and last for 60 consecutive days. In a year a governor is inaugurated, however, 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 Chambers at which the Governor presents his legislative program along with the state budget bill. Speaking before the full body in what is called the “State of the State Address,” the Governor delivers his proposals as to what key issues he believes the legislators should act on during the session.
Any regular session may be extended by a concurrent resolution adopted by two-thirds vote of the members elected to each house. If the session is extended, legislators cannot act on any measures except the budget bill, business stated in the concurrent resolution, or items proclaimed by the Governor.
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 of three-fifths of the members elected to each house.
The Governor announces the convening of a special session through a written proclamation, which 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.
The Senate and House of Delegates each elect a leader, or an officer. The leader in the Senate is called the President and the House leader is called the Speaker.
In managing the work and efficient operations of their chambers, both leaders choose the chairs and members for each louse’s standing committees, refer legislation to the 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 second ranking constitutional officer in West Virginia and succeeds to the office of the Governor in the event a vacancy should occur in that office. The Speaker of the House is next in line of succession.
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 the 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 a 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 the 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 Tempore 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.
Bills are proposed laws. They are ideas of 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, the idea or an initial bill draft 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.
After the draft legislation is prepared, the sponsor reviews and submits it to the clerk of the chamber of which he is a member. The clerk assigns a number to the bill and the presiding officer for the body names the committee or committees that will study the bill.
INTRODUCTION OF A BILL
A bill is formally introduced on the floor of the House or of the Senate when its title is read by the clerk and the Speaker or the President announces the committee reference.
ABBREVIATIONS USED TO IDENTIFY LEGISLATION
Com. Sub. –
Senate Concurrent Resolution
House Concurrent Resolution
Senate Joint Resolution
House Joint Resolution
There are standing committees in both the Senate and the House which have continuing responsibility for reviewing and making recommendations on legislation referred to them regarding a particular subject area such as Banking and Insurance. The number and titles of the standing committees differ between the Senate and the House and are set forth in the rules of each body.
After a bill is introduced on the floor of either chamber, it is sent to a committee for study. Although the committees function as advisors to their bodies and any action they take is subject to the will of the full body, committees are central to the workings of the legislative process. It is through this review by several small groups of legislators that more of the hundreds of bills introduced in each house during a session receive careful and thorough study.
Legislation to be taken up for discussion in a committee is placed on an agenda. From the committee’s discussion, amendments may be offered to the bill. If a bill in the house of origin has numerous changes made to it or if the amendments are confusing or lengthy, a committee substitute may be offered. Once all changes are made and agreed to by a committee – which may require several meetings – a motion is made to report the measure out to the floor in one of the following ways:
- With the recommendation that it “do pass” in its original form, or with amendments suggested by the committee, or as a committee substitute; or
- With the recommendation that it “do not pass;” or
- With no recommendation
This report, along with the original bill and any committee amendments are filed with the appropriate clerk so the report can be read on the floor and the bill can be placed on the calendar.
Not all legislation is reported back from the committees. Those measures, which are not reported by the end of the session, are considered to have “died in committee.”
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.
Senate Daily Order of Business
- To read, correct and approve the Journal.
- Introduction of guests.
- To dispose of communications from the House of Delegates and the Executive.
- To receive reports from Standing committees.
- To receive reports from Select Committees.
- To receive bills, resolutions, motions and petitions.
- To act upon unfinished business of the preceding day and resolutions over from the previous day; no resolution shall lose its place on the calendar by not being acted upon the day following that on which it is offered.
- Senate and House bills on third reading.
- Senate and House bills on second reading.
- Senate and House bill on first reading.
- Introduction of guests.
- Remarks made by the members of the Senate.
House Daily Order of Business
- To read, correct and approve the Journal.
- To act upon leave of absence for members.
- To receive and consider reports of Standing Committees.
- To receive and consider reports of Select Committees.
- To receiver and consider messages from the Executive, state officials and other communications and remonstrances.
- To receive messages from the Senate and consider amendments proposed by the Senate to bills passed by the House.
- To receive resolutions, petitions and motions.
- Bills introduced on motion for leave and referred to appropriate committees.
- To act on unfinished business of the preceding day and resolutions laying over from the previous day.
- House and Senate bills on third reading.
- House and Senate bills on second reading.
- House and Senate bills on first reading.
- Miscellaneous business.
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.
It was mentioned earlier that bills are placed on a calendar by the clerk of each house. A calendar is actually a listing of what will be taken up on a given day usually under three orders of business; bills on third reading, bills on second reading and bills on first reading.
Reading of bills generally occurs 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 title or brief summary of the measure is recited by the reading clerk along with the bill number. 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 the second reading, or amendment stage, any committee recommendation 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 which 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.
The second chamber may change a bill passed by the first body. For a bill to complete legislative action, both bodies must approve identical legislation. An agreement, therefore, must be reached if changes are made.
When the first body receives the message from the second chamber that as amendment has been made in an engrossed bill, the first chamber may either accept the amendment or send a message to the other chamber asking the body to “recede” from its amendments. The second body may back down from it position, or it may refuse to recede. If the second body refuses to recede, then a conference committee is necessary to iron out those items in a bill on which the two bodies disagree if the bill is to pass.
A conference committee is composed of an equal number of Senators, appointed by the President, and of Delegates, appointed by the Speaker. As with standing committees, changes made in a bill by a conference committee are recommendations which the full bodies must act on. Once a compromise is reached, the co-chairs of the conference committee report to their respective bodies. The conference committee report must then be accepted (adopted) or rejected. If the report is accepted, the amended version of the bill must be voted on for its passage or rejection.
In all cases, once the same version of a bill is passed by both houses, it becomes an enrolled bill and is sent to the governor for his consideration.
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 appropriation bills must be acted on by the governor within five days, 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 appropriation bill. A two-thirds vote of both houses is needed to override a Governor’s veto in these instances.
After a bill becomes a law, it is called an act. The “Acts of the Legislature” is published each year reflecting all of the measures becoming 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 of the matters taken up by the Legislature are in the form of bills, another kind of legislative proposal is called a resolution. There are actually three types of resolutions considered by the West Virginia Legislature: joint, concurrent and simple. Unlike bills, resolutions do not 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 the bills. Joint resolutions must receive a two-thirds vote of the elected members.
Concurrent resolutions are measures affecting the actions or procedures of both the House of Delegates and the Senate and must be adopted by both bodies. These resolutions may express the sentiments of the Legislature, authorize expenditures incidental to the session and business of the Legislature, agree upon 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 voted on.
METHODS OF VOTING
In committee meetings and during floor sessions, issues are decided by members casting votes. 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 chair generally determines which method of voting will be used unless a member requests another type of vote be taken.
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 note is sometimes used. The presiding officer or chairperson 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 decision as to which side prevails.
The third type of voting is called the division vote. When a division vote is take, 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 daily, written record of all the action taken during a floor session is recorded for each body in either the House Journal or the Senate Journal. To see what took place on a particular day in either chamber, including bills acted on, the text of adopted amendments and votes cast, one may go to the appropriate journal to locate the proceedings of that day.
Beyond the session activities, the journals also contain a variety of useful information by which the legislative process may be monitored. To effectively use the journals, one must first become familiar with the format used.
Following the Order of Business for each chamber, each House and Senate journal begins with the floor action of the previous day. After this account, an abstract or bill history is listed. This is a numerical listing of bills introduced giving the name of the sponsor(s), the short title of the bill, the date it is introduced, the committee to which it is referred, the status of the bill after it is reported from committee and any action taken by the Governor.
Appearing next are the topical indexes, which list bills by broad subject areas. If a person does not know the number of a bill, the subject can be located in the topical along with the appropriate bill number. One can find the bill number in the abstract or bill history to determine what action has been taken on the measure.
Other listings in the journals include resolutions, bills passed by each chamber, bills sent to conference committee, bills passed by the Legislature and bills acted on by the Governor.
At the rear of each journal is the daily calendar. The calendars list legislation which will be acted on during the floor session on the day the journal is printed. In the latter part of a session, two calendars may be printed in the House Journals, the house calendar and the special calendar. The House Rules Committee determines the most important bills to be considered and places them on the special calendar. Only those items on the special calendar are taken up by the body. In the Senate, the Rules Committee may arrange a calendar.
Finally, a schedule of committee meetings and public hearings appears on the last page of a journal.
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 to votes needed of the full membership of each house to adopt or pass a measure is:
TYPE OF MAJORITY
DEFINITIONS OF LEGISLATIVE TERMS
Act: legislation which become law.
Adjourn: to end a House or Senate floor session or committee meting until another scheduled time.
Adjourn Sine Die: The final closing of a legislative session.
Adopt: approval or acceptance usually applied to amendments, resolutions and motions.
Advice and Consent: process by which certain appointees of the Governor are confirmed by the Senate.
Agenda: A list of items to be considered at a meeting.
Amendment: proposed change in pending legislation by adding, deleting or modifying material.
Appropriation: money allocated by the Legislature to various governmental Departments and agencies for their operation. A supplemental Appropriation is an additional allocation of funds to a specific governmental unit for a stated purpose.
Bill: a proposal for a new law, for the amendment or repeal of an existing law, or for appropriation of public money.
Budget: a financial plan that details expected revenues (income) and appropriations (expenditures) for a specific time period. The state budget covers the period of July 1 through June 30, which is called the state fiscal year. The legislation containing the state budget is referred to as the budget bill.
Calendar: an organized list of legislation that has been reported out of committees and is ready for floor action.
Caucus: an informal meeting of a group of members, usually of the same political party, to discuss policy or legislation. During a party caucus, staff, the public and the media are not permitted to attend.
Chair: the person conducting the floor session or committee meeting.
Chambers: the two areas set aside for meeting of the entire membership of the Senate and of the House for conducting legislative sessions (also called the floor).
Clerk: chief administrative officer of the House or the Senate elected by the members of each body.
Committee Substitute: an amended version of a bill recommended by a committee. Committee substitutes are generally offered when amendments to a bill are numerous or confusing and the ideas will be made clearer by rewriting the bill. A committee substitute retains the same subject and bill number as the original bill.
Committees: the various types of legislative committees are defined below –
- Committee of the Whole: an informal session of the entire membership of either house.
- Conference Committee: a committee made up of Delegates appointed by the Speaker and Senators appointed by the President to try to resolve the differences in legislative measures.
- Interim Committee: a group established by law or rules to work between sessions on legislative matters.
- Joint Committee: a committee composed of members of both houses.
- Select Committee: a group appointed by the Speaker and the President to handle specific matters. This committee is usually dissolved when its purpose is accomplished.
- Standing Committee: members appointed by the Speaker and the President at the beginning of a Legislature which has continuing responsibility in a general field of legislative activity, such as Finance.
- Subcommittee: a portion of a committee appointed by a committee chair to research and study a particular bill or problem and to report its findings to the entire committee.
Concur: the action of one house in agreeing to or approving a proposal or action by the other body.
Constituent: a citizen who resides within the district of a legislator.
Convene: to assemble for a meeting.
Debate: to discuss a matter according to parliamentary rules.
Discharge a Committee: to remove a bill or resolution from consideration of a committee.
Division Vote: a method of voting in which the members favoring and opposing an issue are counted and only the numerical result is recorded.
Draft: to write a bill.
Enact: to make a bill into law.
Engrossed Bill: a version of a bill that includes all adopted amendments of the house of origin attached to the original measure.
Enrolled Bill: the final, official version of a bill that is agreed to by both bodies and contains all necessary signatures.
Extraordinary Session: special session of the Legislature called by the Governor to deal with specific problems arising in the state.
House of Delegates: one of the two chambers of the Legislature that has 100 members, all of whom are elected every two years. In addition to acting on legislation, the House has the sole power of impeaching of state officers.
House of Origin: the body in which a bill or resolution is introduced.
Introduction: the step by which a bill is officially started in the legislative process.
Journal: the formal, written record of floor proceedings printed daily by the clerk of each house. While the journals do not contain a verbatim transcript of the daily sessions, they do contain roll call votes, attendance records, committee assignments, a daily record of actions taken and bill status information.
Language: the specific working of a bill.
Lobbyist: a person who seeks to directly or indirectly encourage the passage, defeat or modification of any legislation.
Majority: a group of legislators of the same political party who have the greatest number of elected member and who control the leadership positions.
Majority: when related to voting, a majority is the number of members in the House or the Senate necessary to pass legislation.
Minority: a group of legislators of the same political party who have the fewest number of elected members.
Motion: a proposal made to the presiding officer calling for a specific action. Motions are of various order, rank, precedence and class as established through parliamentary practice. Motions commonly used in the Legislature include:
- Lie over: to allow a bill or other matter to be considered at some specific later time, usually the next day.
- Postpone Indefinitely: to delay action forever. If this motion is adopted, the matter being considered is dead for the remainder of the session.
- Previous Question: to close debate on the subject under discussion. When this motion is made, debate is interrupted and a vote is taken on whether the body wants to end debate. If the motion fails, debate continues. If the motion is adopted, a second vote is taken on the subject itself.
- Reconsideration: to retake a vote on a measure.
- Table: to set aside a matter for later consideration.
Order of Business: routine agenda for floor sessions.
Point of Order: a member’s inquiry of the chair as to the correctness of a procedure being followed.
Presiding Officer: the elected leader of each legislative body; in the House the position is called Speaker and in the Senate it is called President. Committee chairs are also considered the presiding officers of their committees.
Privilege of the Floor: being permitted access to the Senate or House chamber when the Legislators are in session.
Public Hearing: a public meeting of a legislative committee(s) on a particular subject at which any citizen may speak and offer his or her views on the subject.
Question: the main topic under discussion.
Quorum: the minimum number of persons who must be present to conduct business either on the floor of the chamber or in a committee. A quorum is one more than half of the membership.
Readings: the three stages bills And joint resolutions go through on the floor of a chamber. The first reading is the information stage, the second reading is the amendment stage, and the third reading is the passage stage.
Recede: to withdraw or back down from a position on an issue.
Recess: a temporary break in a daily session or a committee meeting.
Regular Session: the 60 consecutive days during which the Legislature meets each year, beginning on the second Wednesday in January. In years in which a governor is inaugurated, the Legislature meets on this date only long enough for each house to elect its officers for the next two-year term and to jointly publish the general election returns. It then adjourns until the second Wednesday in February for the 60-day session.
Repeal: to officially revoke a previous action.
Report Out or Report Back: When a committee prepares a report with its recommendations regarding a bill assigned to it and returns it to the full body for consideration.
Resolutions: a legislative proposal that does not require action by the Governor if adopted by the Legislature. There are three types of resolutions considered by the West Virginia Legislature:
- Joint – a measure used to propose amendments to the State Constitution which is place on the ballot to be voted on by the people in a special or general election.
- Concurrent – a measure affecting actions, procedures or sentiments of both houses that must be adopted by both bodies.
- Simple – a measure used by a single house to take action affecting its own procedures or expressing an opinion, sympathy or commendation.
Roll Call Vote: a recorded vote count of either body of either body of the Legislature published in the House and Senate Journals. Roll call voted may be taken in committees and recorded in the meeting minutes. This type of vote is also referred to as the “yeas and nays.”
Rules: the set of regulations and parliamentary procedures adopted separately by the House and the Senate to govern each body’s actions. There are also joint rules which govern both houses.
Senate: one of the two chambers of the Legislature which has 34 members who serve four-year terms. One-half of the members are elected to this body every two years. I addition to its legislative responsibilities, the Senate confirms appointments made by the Governor and conducts all impeachment trials.
Special Order of Business: a matter which is designated to be acted on at a specific time and date.
Sponsor: the legislator or legislative committee introducing a bill. A bill may have more than one sponsor with the name or names of each sponsor appearing in print of the legislation.
Statute: a written law.
Suspend the Rules: an action whereby a particular rule of either body is viewed as hampering efficient work on a certain issue or problem and the rule is temporarily disregarded through a vote of the members.
Sustain a Motion: the legislative method of seconding a motion, generally requiring agreement by at least one-tenth of the membership. Most motions are not sustained and the presiding officer announces when such an action is necessary.
Title: a concise statement of the contents of a bill.
Unanimous Consent: permission granted, without exception, by either house to a member desiring to accomplish an action without making a motion. Unanimous consent is granted by members remaining silent or voicing no objection.
Unfinished Business: a matter held over from the previous day.
Veto: the action of the Governor to disapprove a legislative measure.
Voice Vote: a method of voting whereby the members verbally, as a group, express their support or opposition to a question.