Today, we profile (by we, I mean a great, local activist in Morgantown!) the West Virginia State Legislature as an example for how we can be active at the state level as well. Because, as we know, states can pass more restrictive, degenerate, and discriminatory bills than the US Congress.
The West Virginia Legislature is in session for 60 days starting February 8, 2017.
The Legislature is made up of two houses (called chambers)- the House of Delegates and the Senate. There are 100 delegates (63 Republicans to 36 Democrats) and 34 senators (22 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Members of the Legislature (whether delegates or senators) are known collectively as legislators.
A bill gets introduced either by a member of the House of Delegates or a member of the Senate. The leadership of the House or the Senate assigns the bill to a committee. Sometimes a bill is assigned to more than one committee. Each committee is made up of both Republicans and Democrats. The Republicans are in the majority in both chambers and are in the leadership positions.
Once in committee, a bill is discussed during committee meetings. You have to check the agenda of the respective committee every morning to see whether a particular bill is going to be discussed. The committee can leave the bill as written, amend the bill, pass it to another committee, or “kill” the bill by doing nothing with it. The final objective is to send the bill to the floor to be voted on. If, after three readings on the floor, a majority agree with the bill, it gets “passed”. Then it gets sent to the other chamber where the process gets started all over again with committees. If the bill gets passed by both chambers, then it goes to the governor to be signed into law or vetoed. If vetoed, then a simple majority vote can override the veto (in most cases).
From the WV Legislature site, you can find tabs for the Senate and the House with drop down windows that take you to committees and membership lists. If you click on a committee, there will be a list of all the members with contact information and a link for the agenda for the latest committee meeting. Agendas aren’t usually posted until the morning of the meeting (how convenient!) and committees don’t always meet every day. A committee schedule can be found here.
Other useful tabs from the home page are bill status and bill tracking where you can enter the number of the bill and can find a pdf of the bill in question.
Additional links found on the homepage are links to live feeds and the blog which is a daily wrap up of all the bills that were discussed in committee that day.
Also useful is House list of introduced bills by topic and by date found here. Senate list of introduced bills by topic and by date found here. Legiscan is also useful and can be a one-stop shop of information.
I have emailed a few Delegates about some great bills to reduce property owner rights and put more pollution in streams (yay!). It’s easy! The delegates often contact you right back. Phone calls of course work very well as well. It all depends on the time you have (one email reaching all committee members is handy). The tough part is honestly figuring out when the bill is up for consideration.
The bottom line is that we can be just as active with local issues, but it could take even more effort to sort out who — and when — you need to contact legislators.