by Sam Sentelle
Posted on March 27, 2018
How a bill becomes law, ‘herding cats’ in the Legislature
Del. Dianna L. Graves
March 27, 2018
Del. Dianna Graves gave fellow Rotarians a refresher course today on legislative processes in West Virginia.
The freshman delegate was appointed last fall to fill the vacancy in Delegate District 38 upon the resignation of Del. Nancy Foster.
Hundreds of bills are introduced in each session of the Legislature. “It’s a little rushed to keep up with that material,” Graves said. “Often you are up late at night trying to read everything.
“Anyone can propose a bill,” she said, “a group, a lobbyist, a business. But it has to be sponsored by a legislator.” And most bills are drafted for language and appropriate state code placement by attorneys in legislative services.
“Sometimes that doesn’t happen — with unforeseen consequences,” she said. Laws for management of the state’s vehicle fleet give an example.
“The state had no idea how many cars they owned,” she said, “because when the system was created, the [law] was placed in the purchasing section.” Because of this, a number of state agencies, for different reasons, were exempt from purchasing regulations.
“So a new bill (HB 4170) on fleet management moved [purchasing of vehicles] to a new section of code where it applied to all agencies.
“Now they have an accurate count.” Previously, she continued, “there had been a lot of fraud: There were license plates in filing cabinets that were supposed to be attached to cars. The state was paying for cars which had been sold.
“You could buy the state tags, the green ones, on eBay. The state paid the taxes for that in perpetuity.
“After a bill is submitted, it has to be submitted to the clerk: The Speaker [for the House] or the President [of the Senate] then assigns the bill to the appropriate committee. This is the way a larger number of bills can be studied in depth.”
And “this is one of the first opportunities for an introduced bill to die: The chairperson can just refuse to pick it up. If they decide they don’t like it, if there are technical problems with the bill, it dies. It never gets onto the committee agenda. It never gets considered by the committee. And the bill is dead.
“A lot of bills that die are recycled. They get fixed and brought back up.
“Once a bill is considered by the committee, it can be recommend that it be passed, or rejected, or amended.
“The Rules Committee [in the House] determines which bills are placed on the calendar. This is another chance for a bill to die. There are two calendars, a House calendar, and a Special calendar. If a bill does not move from the House calendar to the Special calendar, the bill is dead.
“The Constitution requires three readings of each bill; amendments may be added after the second reading. . . . The third reading is when the chamber votes as a body. This is another chance for the bill to die. If you don’t have a majority vote of those present, then the bill is dead.
“This is also a chance for shenanigans to happen,” she said. “This year there was a bill [SJR 12, to authorize a Constitutional amendment]. The Constitution right now is pro-choice on abortion. The pro-life group was pushing this bill, and the pro-choice group wanted the bill to fail.”
The evening before the vote, a bogus email to all legislators misrepresented the contents of the measure. The resolution passed, however, and will appear on the November ballot.
Graves characterized some legislative activities as “herding cats.”
But despite such difficulties, including an extended teacher strike, the Legislature passed a budget and completed essential work in time to avoid a special session. “That saved a lot of money,” Del. Graves said. And she was glad to have been a part of the work to avoid the extra cost.