On January 11th, the 86th Legislature of the State of West Virginia convened, and for the second year in a row, the Senate usurped their authority by bypassing the normal procedure of sending bills to committee and then having them read three times. On day one, the West Virginia State Senate voted no less than 23 times to suspend the Constitution. Then twice the second day of session. Why even have a constitution?
According to the West Virginia State Constitution under 6-29 it reads, “Requirement for reading of bills: No bill shall become a law until it has been fully and distinctly read, on three different days, in each house, unless in case of urgency, by a vote of four fifths of the members present, taken by yeas and nays on each bill, this rule be dispensed with: Provided, in all cases, that an engrossed bill shall be fully and distinctly read in each house.”
The definition of urgency according to Marriam-Webster is “the quality of state of being urgent,” and urgent means “calling for immediate attention.”
While looking at some of these bills that bypassed the committee process I must ask, what is so urgent about updating offenses of extortion and attempted extortion (SB140)? Or how about modifying regulations of peer-to-peer car sharing program(SB146)? And that’s just a couple examples.
While I was in the House, we suspended this rule several times during Special Sessions, but even that was questionable.
By the way, I’m glad I’m not the only one who took note. Mike Toney of HD Media wrote an article about this and rightfully so. His article, “The Public Should Know What They Voted On,” makes a lot of good points. For one thing, there was at least two bills that passed before the texts of these bills were even made public. According to Mr. Toney, “The bill text for Senate Bills 161 and 162 wasn’t available on the state Legislature’s website until roughly three hours after the Senate passed them Thursday.”
He also acquired quotes from two law professors. “The power they’ve got, they’re abusing it,” said Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who served as chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, and, from West Virginia University, law professor Bob Bastress was quoted as saying, “It’s simply flaunting the Constitution to waive it in such fashion that routinely. It defeats the purpose of the constitutional provisions.”
If you go to the West Virginia Legislature website under “Citizen’s Guide to the Legislature,” it says, “Floor sessions in both the House and the Senate are governed in large part by the rules of the body and constitutional requirements and are conducted according to strict parliamentary procedures.” Strict parliamentary procedures? Really?
It goes on to say, “A bill is read three times to accomplish three different purposes: The First reading of a bill is called the information stage, informing the members that the bill will be discussed. On Second reading, or amendment stage, any committee recommendations and changes proposed by individual members are discussed and acted on.” That one-day period of time between the first and second reading is very important. It gives members a chance to scrutinize the bills and if there’s something in it that a member doesn’t like, he or she has time to craft an amendment and introduce it on the second reading.
So, what is so urgent that this rule in our Constitution, which the members of the Senate swore to uphold, must be suspended? It’s certainly goes against the intent of our founders. Let’s face it. Probably the only reason the rules were suspended was for convenience and to rush a bunch of bills through. But that’s not what concerns me the most. My biggest concern is this. Does this violate our State Constitution?
And if so, who determines what is an urgency? In other words, who has authority to interpret the constitution? Is it the Senate or President of the Senate? No, courts have the power to strike down laws that violate a state’s constitution and in this case, if challenged, that decision would probably be determined by theWest Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Which means, that someone or some organization who has standing could possibly challenge the legality of any of these laws if they complete legislation. Also, as I look at some of these bills, they seem to be very good bills, and if they are good bills, why would you want to take that chance? I wouldn’t, andif someone challenges this in court, I hope they win. Our Constitution is too important to be treated with disrespect.