CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During a lengthy, contentious and unprecedented floor session, the state Senate Wednesday voted 21-12 to change its rules to create a new position of acting president -- over objections from senators who argued the change is unconstitutional, and could ultimately nullify any actions by the Senate this session.
After the acting president position was created, senators elected Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, to the position on a voice vote.
The vote to create the acting president position followed nearly two hours of debate over whether the Senate had legal and constitutional authority to do so.
"I believe what has happened in this Senate chamber since the party caucuses is unprecedented, is unconstitutional, and is illegal," Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, said of the change.
Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, called the rule change a "train wreck coming" that will likely be challenged before the state Supreme Court.
"All of our work in the days and weeks ahead may well be for naught," said Jenkins, who said any legislation approved by the newly constituted Senate could be overturned in court.
He also said the House of Delegates could refuse to take up any bills passed by the Senate, and signed by the acting president, as invalid.
"I think this issue is off to the Supreme Court, similar to the issue of whether or not we need an election for governor," Jenkins said after the rule change vote.
However, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, who will serve as majority leader in the new Senate, argued the state constitution demands the election of an acting president while Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, is absent from the body while serving as acting governor.
"It's imperative that we have the separation of powers between the executive branch and this branch, and this rule does it," Unger said.
During the contentious debate, Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, unsuccessfully called for the Senate to adjourn indefinitely until all legal and constitutional questions could be resolved.