Why committees are the powerhouses of the legislature

House Government Organization Committee meets January 23, 2019. Photo by Perry Bennett, Legislative Photographer.

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB

It’s the third week of Session and the Legislative machine is picking up steam. Hundreds of bills have been introduced so far, and hundreds more will be considered before the session’s final day. Both the Senate and the House of Delegates tackle the monumental task of reviewing all of these bills by dividing the work among the many committees that are a part of each Legislative Body.

Why are committees so useful?

  • Referring bills to committees allows more time for detailed consideration by legislators than would be possible if every one of the thousands of bills introduced each Session was discussed by all members on the floor of each Legislative body.

Who serves on these committees?

  • Representatives are appointed to committees by the head of their respective house – the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. Appointments are often made based on a legislator’s interests or expertise, but can also be influenced by the priorities of the Speaker or Senate President.

How do committees consider bills?

  • Before a committee convenes, the chair or co-chairs set an agenda for each meeting.
  • Prioritizing the many bills that are referred to a committee is often influenced by the priorities of the majority party, requests of the Speaker or Senate President, and by the interests of committee members.
  • Once a bill makes it onto the agenda, it’s discussed by members of the committee who ask questions of legal counsel, offer amendments, and then vote to pass the bill or not.

What if the bill hasn’t made it on the agenda?

  • If a bill doesn’t have a strong appeal to committee member’s interests in their district or statewide, it can be put off to the side. It’s not uncommon for a bill to get stuck in limbo, but with some work, it’s possible to pry it out. Here are four steps citizens can take to help get a bill moving:
  1. Check which committees the bill has been assigned to. You can find this out from a quick search on the Legislature’s Bill Status website.
  2. See who’s on the committee and where they’re from. Committee listings for the Senate are available here and for the House, here. You can click on each committee member’s name to find out which district they represent and what types of bills they’ve sponsored in the past.
  3. E-mail, call in, or schedule a meeting to make your case. Let members of the committee know that West Virginians from their district and around the state care about a bill and want it on the agenda. If you’d like help scheduling an in-person meeting with a legislator, get in touch with the Hub’s Policy Coordinator, Taylor Bennett.

 

Contact the Speaker or the Senate President’s office. If your bill just isn’t moving, organizing a large group of concerned citizens to contact the appropriate head of house’s office can convince them that the bill should be put on the committee’s agenda.

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