BY DWAYNE BARTLEY, ABANDONED PROPERTIES COALITION AND POLICY VISTA, THE HUB
Bills undergo a pretty complicated process in order to become West Virginia law. But don’t worry, we’re here to clear up some of some of the confusion with this quick primer.
Once citizens, lobbyists, or legislators identify the issue they want to address, they prepare the text of the proposed bill or ask a staff attorney at the Capitol to do so. The Office of Legislative Services sets the standards for how the text should be written.
In order for a bill to be introduced into the Legislature, citizens must find a delegate or senator who is willing to sponsor the bill. Without at least one legislative sponsor, the bill isn’t eligible to be introduced into the legislative process.
After a sponsor is found, the proposed bill is introduced into the chamber of the bill’s lead sponsor – the House of Delegates for bills sponsored by delegates, the Senate for bills sponsored by state senators.
Considering Proposed Bills
Once introduced, the bill is referred to the appropriate committee(s) for consideration. The specific committee a bill ends up in is based on the subject matter of the proposed legislation. For example, transportation related bills are assigned to the chamber’s transportation and infrastructure committee.
Some bills are complex enough to warrant being assigned to multiple committees. For example, a bill might be about constructing a new road, however the bill also requires the Legislature to allocate funding to the construction project. Such a bill would likely have what’s called a “double committee reference.”
In the case mentioned above, the bill might be referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, where it’s considered first. If a majority of the members of the committee vote yes, the bill is passed and then referred to the subsequent committee – finance, in our example – for further consideration.
If the bill successfully passes all committee assignments, it is delivered to the floor of the full chamber where it must be read three times before being voted on.
The first reading of the bill is meant to give legislators who haven’t seen the bill yet a chance to understand what it’s about. Often the first reading of bills is “dispensed with,” meaning that legislators opt to review the legislation on their own time.
The second reading of the bill is an opportunity for legislators to discuss the merits and drawbacks of the bill and offer any amendments they wish to make. The third reading of the bill gives time for legislators to debate the bill a final time before it’s put to a vote.
After the third reading, the bill is voted upon by the chamber’s membership. If defeated, the bill is permanently set aside. If it passes, the bill is communicated to the other legislative chamber for consideration.
Once the bill is communicated to the other chamber or “crossed over,” it goes through an identical process of consideration. If it successfully passes committee(s) and a vote of the full chamber, the bill is sent back to the original chamber for “concourance” or agreement with any amendments that have been made. Then it is delivered to the governor for final consideration.
The Governor’s Role
The governor has three options for the pending legislation: sign the bill, veto the bill, or allow the bill to become law without signature. During the legislative session, the governor has only five days in which to sign or veto a pending bill. If the legislature is not in session, the governor has fifteen days to sign or veto a bill, with the exception of the state’s budget, which must be acted on within five days at all times. If no action is taken, the bill becomes law – even without the governor’s signature.
Bills vetoed by the governor can still become the law if a simple majority of both legislative chambers vote to override the veto. Budget bills are the exception and require a two-thirds majority of both houses to override a veto.
This is just a quick overview that can impact a bill’s progress through the legislative process—amendments, bills left off of committee agendas, etc. Hopefully, this overview has provided some insight into the basic process of lawmaking in West Virginia.