The Work of the Clerk

Senate Clerk Lee Cassis

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB

West Virginia’s 60-day legislative session can seem like a particularly chaotic affair, with hundreds of legislators, staff, and citizens rushing in different directions, all trying to accomplish different and sometimes contradictory goals.

At the Capitol, there are two brave souls whose job it is to bring order to this chaos: the Clerks of the House and Senate.

Bringing Order to the Process

If you look closely at the legislative chaos, you’ll see that it’s governed by a set of rules. These are called Robert’s Rules and they lay out the legislative process and ensure that each voice at the legislature is weighted equally.

The job of the clerk is, essentially, to be the keeper of the legislative process. They make sure that every piece of proposed legislation moves through the process according to the rules and record its progress along the way.

Each chamber of the legislature has a clerk. In the House of Delegates, the clerk is Steve Harrison and in the Senate, it’s Lee Cassis. They’re responsible for providing impartial support for the legislative process in a number of ways including: 

  • Receiving reports about every action taken by each committee, the other chamber of the legislature and the Governor. (Note: In this context, the word “action” means any formal decision made by the legislature such as the result of a vote, any amendments that were made, etc.) 
  • Reporting information about the legislative process to the House or Senate.
  • Supporting legislators as they review bills during floor sessions.
  • Compiling all of the records that they keep into books that are preserved as a record of West Virginia’s History.
House Clerk Steve Harrison (left). Senate Clerk Lee Cassis is pictured at the top of this article.

I Have a Question…

As the official record keepers of the legislature, they are also a wealth of information. Here are some questions that the clerks can be particularly helpful with:

  • Can they do that? No one knows the legislative process better than the clerks, so if you have a question about why a particular action happened on a piece of legislation, the clerk’s office is a great place to start. They can tell you what it means in practice when a bill is “laid upon the table,” or when action has been “postponed indefinitely.” And perhaps most helpfully, they can explain the possible courses of action that could come next.  
  • Who took a stand, or not, on my bill? The clerk and their staff are responsible for recording every action that is taken during a floor session. Who makes a motion, who seconds it, votes that are taken and objections that are made. Everything that is said on the floor is recorded. This information can always be found in the Journal, which is compiled by the clerk daily and can be found on the legislature’s website on the Bulletin Board page. (Note: If legislators want to capture every word that someone said, they may move to have the remarks that person made be printed in the Journal. Otherwise, the clerk records the actions taken, but not every single word.)

 

It takes a lot of work to make sure that the legislative process functions properly. While the clerks aren’t the only ones making sure that each voice is fairly weighted, they play a key role in making sure that the rules of order are followed and that information is available to legislators and citizens alike.

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