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W.Va. Dems vote themselves more control of House bills

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- New House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, claimed his first victory of the 2014 legislative session, with the House adopting a rule change Thursday that will give leaders more authority over which bills reach the House floor.

The measure -- which House Republicans contended is a way to quash debate on controversial issues -- passed on a partisan 53-45 vote.

"We're going to silence the voices of over 80 percent of this body," complained Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley.

Traditionally, during the second-half of the 60-day session, the House uses two calendars for floor sessions -- the active calendar, containing bills that are to be acted on that day, and the inactive calendar, where bills advanced to the House floor from committees are "parked," sometimes never to be considered again.

The use of the two calendars allows House leaders to avoid a crush of bills during any one floor session, particularly in the final days of the session.

Frequently, bills that don't have to be dealt with immediately are moved to the inactive calendar temporarily.

With the rule change adopted Thursday, the House this session will have the two-calendar system for the entire regular session.

Republicans argued that gives too much power to the House Rules Committee, made up of committee chairs and House leaders. Democrats outnumber Republicans 10 to 8 on that committee.

"It allows 10 members of the House to say, no matter what has happened to the bill to this point, no matter how much discussion and debate on it in committee, we don't want it to come to the House," said Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.

Said Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, "My concern is it may limit meaningful debate on important issues and reforms."

House Democrats disagreed.

"I don't think it quashes anyone's rights. In fact, everything will be on the [active] calendar, unless Rules takes it off," said Finance Chairman Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.

Judiciary Chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion, said getting bills through committees is part of the legislative process: "One of those committees is Rules."

Afterward, Armstead said he believes the rule change is partially an election-year ploy, allowing delegates to tell constituents they voted for their bills in committee while knowing those bills were never going to come up for passage votes on the floor.

Two members were absent for Thursday's vote, Delegates Josh Nelson, R-Boone, and Ron Walters, R-Kanawha.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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