A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Amendments

Photo by Perry Bennett, Legislative Photography.

Talk of constitutional amendments can create quite the buzz at the Capitol.

The process of how our constitution is amended can often be confusing in the midst of all of the hubbub — rumors about which amendments have been proposed abound, while the success of joint resolutions in the Legislature can be made to seem as if they are final rather than just a first step in the amendment process.

While both Houses can pass joint resolutions calling for additions or changes to the state Constitution, there’s a much larger process required before West Virginia’s Constitution can actually be amended.

Step 1

Any proposed Constitutional amendment starts with an idea based on a perceived need in the state. It might be a need to clarify an existing legal issue, or a need to approve the sale of bonds to create a funding stream for a new project. In the past, the Constitution has been amended to create funding for roads, dollars for bonuses of Korean War veterans, and to set the number of justices on the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

Step 2

Once the idea is refined, it is put into bill language and introduced in at least one House in the Legislature via a joint resolution. After a joint resolution is introduced in one house, it must be read three times on three separate days and agreed upon by at least a two thirds majority of members- that’s more than the simple majority necessary to pass a regular bill. If the joint resolution is approved, it travels on to the second house, where it must go through the same reading and voting process again.

Step 3

If the joint resolution makes it through both houses, it’s then placed on the ballot during either a special election or the next general election (you might remember this happening this past summer, when the Road Bond Amendment was placed before voters).

Step 4

Then, if a majority of the qualified voters vote yes on the amendment, it is ratified and the Constitution is amended.

Interested in seeing what proposed amendments are under consideration? See what proposed amendments might be making their way onto your ballot here. (Joint resolutions which could bring about a constitutional amendment are typically labeled as “SJR” or “HJR.”)

And, as always, let your representatives know what you think about these proposed amendments. You can find information for how to contact your representatives here.

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