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West Virginia Legislative Process

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West Virginia Legislative Process: A Guide Through the Legislative Process

Introduction > Bill Development > Resolutions >Definition of Legislative Terms Definition of Legislative Terms


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.

A Guide Through the Legislative Process 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." 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, 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 58 delegate districts. Each citizen in the state has representatives in both the Senate and the House.

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/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 75th Legislature consisting of the 2001 and 2002 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, 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 from 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.

Presiding Officers

The Senate and the House of Delegates each elect a leader, or an 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 body'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 second ranking constitutional officer in West Virginia and succeeds to the office of Governor in the event of a vacancy. The Speaker of 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 that 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 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, selected by the minority members of each body, 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 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.

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