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What’s holding up all those bills, anyway?


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Anyone who grew up watching “Schoolhouse Rock!” probably knows how a bill becomes a law, right? Someone has an idea, it gets introduced as a bill, goes through the committee process, is passed and goes to the president or governor for a signature.

After the Legislature adjourns sine die, the work of preparing the complete bills for action begins.
(WV Legislative photo)

But — not so fast. Many people don’t know there are extra steps between the time the Legislature passes a bill and the time it can be acted upon by the governor.

“I know the popular perception is that once a bill passes both houses, it immediately goes to the governor’s office,” said Jared Hunt, communications director for the West Virginia House of Delegates. “However, there actually is a process the bill has to go through once it’s passed before it can be sent there.”

It’s a deliberate process for a bill to become complete legislation already: committee assignments, amendments. According to Hunt, once a bill is complete, it then has to be proofread and checked for errors or omissions. A check also ensures all amendments adopted as the bill passed through the legislative process are included and properly worded.

Each bill then has to be signed by six different people before it can be sent to the governor. Clerks from both the House and the Senate, a representative from the Senate and House of Delegates committee on enrolled bills, the speaker of the House and the Senate president all have to sign off on every single bill before it reaches the governor’s desk, Hunt said. It’s not exactly an instant procedure.

And there’s a deadline for signing bills as well. After the Legislature adjourns for good, or sine die, Hunt said the governor has five days to act on the budget bill and any supplemental appropriations. For other legislation, the governor has 15 days, excluding Sundays, to sign or veto.

If the deadlines pass with no action from the governor, bills automatically become law without the governor’s signature, Hunt said.

House Clerk Steve Harrison said the House of Delegates passed 132 bills during the legislative session, and the Senate passed 130, for a grand total of 262 bills. That’s more than usual.

“We looked at the average over the past 20 years or so, and the average is in the 240s,” Harrison said.

So even though the Legislature has adjourned and most lawmakers have left Charleston, the Capitol has been buzzing with a flurry of activity from staff members busily proofreading and presenting bills for signatures.

“For the clerk’s office, we’ve got a busy couple of weeks after they’ve adjourned to get the bills ready,” Harrison said.

You’d think actually signing the completed bills would be the easy part, but it’s not quite as simple as that, either.

“You have to sign four copies of everything,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. The bills typically come into his office in batches of a dozen or so, which means Carmichael has to sign his name 48 times.

“The actual signature part of it takes 20 minutes for 12 bills,” Carmichael said.

But it’s not a blind signature, he added.

“It’s tedious,” Carmichael said. “You have to look over them all and find out that they’re properly done and so forth.”

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