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Draft amendment proposes W.Va. governor changes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia governors would be able to serve 10 consecutive years if they started out by completing an unexpired term of two years or less, as part of a proposal that emerged for legislative review Monday.

The provision is part of a draft measure that would ask voters to amend the state constitution and add the elected office of lieutenant governor. The House-Senate judiciary subcommittee studying the topic is also considering a separate proposal to address when a governor or other statewide elected executive branch official becomes temporarily or permanently disabled.

The review follows the November 2010 resignation of Gov. Joe Manchin following his U.S. Senate special election victory. The West Virginia Constitution directed the Senate president, Earl Ray Tomblin, to act as governor. Resolving legal challenges arising from the succession process, the state Supreme Court required that an elected governor take office within a year of Manchin's departure.

Tomblin, 59, met that deadline Sunday. The Democrat took the oath of office after the Legislature declared him the winner of last month's special gubernatorial election. He plans to run again next year, when the office is up for a full four-year term. But as the constitution now limits governors to two consecutive terms, completing what's left of Manchin's term means Tomblin could not run again in 2016 if he prevails in 2012.

Monday's proposal could change that. Earlier this year, Tomblin proposed creating the constitutional office of lieutenant governor to avoid future disputes over succession. The subcommittee proposal would have the lieutenant governor run alongside the governor, and serve as a Cabinet secretary until called on to fill a vacancy.

Two-thirds of the House and Senate must each approve any proposed amendment to the West Virginia Constitution. A simple majority of voters must then pass the measure.

The disability provision envisions a panel of the state's three medical school deans determining whether a statewide executive branch officeholder should be replaced temporarily because of illness, injury or other disability. This panel would also have the authority ask the state Supreme Court to declare an office vacant when a disability is deemed permanent.

This proposal would allow officeholders to name their own temporary stand-ins if they are capable of doing so.


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