West Virginia State Legislature
The West Virginia Legislature is the state legislature of West Virginia. A bicameral legislative body, the Legislature is split between the upper Senate and the lower House of Delegates. It was established under Article VI of the West Virginia Constitution following the state's split from Virginia during the American Civil War in 1863.
The Legislature convenes in the State Capitol building in Charleston.
Regular sessions of the Legislature commence on the second Wednesday of January of each year. However, following the election of a new governor, the session starts in January with the governor's address but then adjourns until February. On the first day of the session, members of both the House and the Senate sit in joint session in the House Chamber where the governor presents his or her legislative program. The length of the general session may not go beyond 60 calendar days unless extended by a concurrent resolution adopted by a two-thirds vote of each house. The governor may convene the Legislature for extraordinary sessions. Governor Joe Manchin has already called three special sessions of the legislature during the first year of his first term. Given the part time nature of the legislature of West Virginia, this is not uncommon.
Origination of bills
Bills, even revenue bills, and resolutions may originate in either house.
For budget bills or supplementary appropriations bills, two-thirds of the members elected to each house are required to override the governor's veto of a bill or items or parts thereof. For all other bills, a simple majority of each house is required.
The West Virginia Senate is the upper house of the West Virginia Legislature. There are 17 senatorial districts. Each district has two senators who serve staggered four-year terms.
The state's districting system is unique in the United States. The state's most populous county, Kanawha County constitutes two "superimposed" districts. In practical effect, this means that Kanawha County is a single district electing two members every two years. The remaining 54 counties of the state are divided into fifteen districts, with county lines not respected in most cases. Under the unique rule, no district may have more than one senator from the same county, no matter the population. This means, for example, that the 99% of the population of the 5th District residing in Cabell County can vie for only one Senate seat, and the tiny portion of Wayne County in the district acts as a sort of rotten borough, as it must have one senator.
While the West Virginia Constitution does not create or even mention the title of Lieutenant Governor, West Virginia Code 6A-1-4 creates this designation for the Senate President. The Senate President is first in the line of succession to the office of governor. As stated in the constitution: "In case of the death, conviction or impeachment, failure to qualify, resignation, or other disability of the governor, the president of the Senate shall act as governor until the vacancy is filled, or the disability removed." However, the Senate President may not always serve the remainder of the term as the constitution also states: "Whenever a vacancy shall occur in the office of governor before the first three years of the term shall have expired, a new election for governor shall take place to fill the vacancy."
The current make-up is 23 Democrats, 11 Republicans.
House of Delegates
The West Virginia House of Delegates is the lower house of the West Virginia Legislature. Only three states--Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia--refer to their lower house as the House of Delegates. The House is composed of 100 members elected for two year terms.
In the 2004 election, 18 women were elected to the House, two less than in 2002. Female delegates hold a greater proportion of seats in the House than do female senators in the West Virginia Senate. However, the Census Bureau reports that females account for more than half of West Virginia's residents.
The House of Delegates' districting system divides the state into 58 districts that elect a varying number of members. The majority of districts, 35, are single-member districts. 23 districts are multi-member constituencies, varying from two to seven (the 30th District in Kanawha County) delegates.
Some have claimed that districts are gerrymandered in such a way as to preserve the status quo. Republicans have called for 100 single-member districts, with the districts representing compact areas of common interests.
The Speaker of the House is selected by its members. In contrast to the tradition of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the Speaker must vote unless excused. The House rules state that in some cases, he or she is not required to vote unless the House is equally divided, or unless his vote, if given to the minority, will make the division equal. In the latter case, the question is lost.
Before the 2006 elections, Democrats controlled the House by a 68-32 margin. The elections resulted in Democrats gaining four seats in the House, upping their majority to 72-28.