The 2018 session of the West Virginia Legislature has now ended. The final night of session is usually an emotional one for many of the members, having highs and lows as bills they worked hard on make it through to the Governor, while others died as time ran out.

By Del. Gary Howell
The 2018 session of the West Virginia Legislature has now ended.  The final night of session is usually an emotional one for many of the members, having highs and lows as bills they worked hard on make it through to the Governor, while others died as time ran out.
For the first time in over 32 years during regular session, the Republican-led Legislature unanimously passed SB 152, the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Bill. Passing the bill during regular session saved the taxpayers $35,000 a day, which is the cost for the extended session.  
Now there are always two budget bills being worked. The House version (HB 4019) passed on Thursday. It was identical to the Senate version, SB 152. The House and Senate alternate from year to year on which bill will be the bill to pass, but they are worked together with minor differences. This year the House version was identical to the Senate bill. Everyone was given the opportunity to offer amendments on the House version and any that were passed were incorporated into the Senate version. This gave us the opportunity to suspend the rules on the identical Senate bill and pass it two days early, but the minority party would not allow a rule suspension, which takes fourth-fifths of the members, to speed up the process.  
In the end a Republican-crafted budget that provides the largest public employee pay raise in state history was passed. It is important to note this budget balances the state’s finances without any tax increases.
While we worked hard to get our work complete before the final day, there was one other bill that passed on the final day, SB 336.
SB 336 provided a way that on certain DMV applications you would have the ability to contribute to WV Department of Veterans Assistance. This creates an easy way for people to donate to allow the Veterans Assistance Department to provide more services to our veterans. That was actually the final bill to pass during session.
With the passage of the budget and SB 336, our work was not over.  We spend 14 hours dealing with Senate messages. Senate messages are just that, messages from the Senate. These messages contain information on what happened to bills that we passed to the Senate.  Sometimes it is just to let the House know they passed the bill, but they can also tell us the Senate modified the bill with an amendment.   If the Senate amended a bill, then we will have to act on the Senate message. First a decision will be made as to whether or not the House will agree to the Senate changes. If we agree, then first we vote to agree to the Senate changes, then we vote on the bill with the changes again and we are done.  
If we disagree with their changes, then we vote to disagree by refusing to concur and asking the Senate to recede from their changes. If that happens, then the bill is sent back to the Senate and they have to make a decision. If they agree to recede, then they vote again and the bill is sent to the Governor.  If they refuse, then they can request a Conference Committee be appointed. It will have three members of the Senate and three members of the House. They will try to hammer out the differences between the two versions. If they come to an agreement, then a new version of an amendment that is somewhere in the middle will be crafted. It will be called a Conference Committee Report.  
Conference Reports have to set for several hours, so that everybody can read it to know what they are voting on and then both house’s will have a vote, if there is time to accept the Conference Committee Report, and then vote to pass the bill in its new form.
One bill that ended up in a Conference Committee was SB 392.  SB 392 reconfigured the membership of Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council. The Senate version of the bill had no lay persons on the council, while the House version had three lay persons to represent the interest of the general public.  The Senate refused to allow three lay persons on the committee and the House felt it was important have input from the general public and refused to back down.  The bill was sent to Conference to hammer out the differences to see if an agreement could be found.
The last committee the bill came through in the House of Delegates was Government Organization. I serve as the chairman of that major committee, as a result of my position as chairman, the Speaker of the House requested I provide him with three members to serve as the House members of the Conference Committee.  The job of these three members is to defend the position of the House of Delegates on the bill.
I first checked to see how the members of the committee voted on passage of the bill. If someone voted against the bill, then they may not wish to defend the House position and they would be eliminated.  Fortunately, the bill passed the House 98 to 0, so all committee members were on the same page.
Since the House is split roughly two-thirds Republican and one-third Democrat, we split the conference committees the same way.  I selected Vernon Criss (R-Wood) as leader of the committee. He was accompanied by Patrick Martin (R-Lewis) and John Williams (D-Monongalia). They met with their Senate counterparts at 7 p.m. and came up with a compromise. The three lay persons the House wanted were retained, but the compromise was they would be non-voting members. They would have the ability to have input, but only the experts in the field would have a vote.   
After the conference report was agreed to it was placed for view at the Senate and House clerks offices for a minimum of two hours.  It was later voted on that night and passed both houses.
As midnight grew close, there were still many Senate messages and conference reports that needed to be acted on.  Keep in mind that anything not acted on by midnight was dead for the year as we are a part-time legislature.  
As time ran out, Democrat members began to ask many questions on Senate messages that were out of character of a normal line of questioning. Title amendments are required when changes are made to a bill. The title amendment is not part of the bill which will become law, but is a technical issue to make sure everything goes in the right place when it becomes law.  Nobody ever asks questions on title amendments, but suddenly they were. This is a delaying tactic to run out the clock to kill a bill further down on the agenda.  
With a lot of bills important to various members, Mike Folk (R-Berkeley) began making a procedural motion called “Moving the Previous Question.”  To move the previous question means you wish to end debate and proceed immediately to a vote on the bill before us.  All of his motions were successful and Delegate Folk managed to save about four bills before the clock struck midnight.
I never did figure out which bill they were interested in killing, but when time ran out it was dead.
The Legislature is now done until next year except for interim meetings, unless the Governor calls a special session, but as always if you have a question, a suggestion on how to improve our state government or need help with a state agency, then you can always call me at (304) 340-3192 or if you prefer e@mail me at Gary.Howell@WVHouse.gov.  Make sure you leave your full name, address and phone number so I can contact you if you leave a message.