By Mannix Porterfield
As predictable as snow in winter, the West Virginia Legislature heeds a historic pattern.
Report to the Capitol in early January, listen to a State of the State message, then launch a 60-day marathon of poring over hundreds of bills, most of which never see the light of day.
In the final week, the two chambers scurry to get preferred bills to the floor and voted on.
Has the time arrived to change the familiar?
Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, thinks so, and says the Legislature and voters who send members there all would be better off in the long run by changing the game plan.
His idea works this way.
Come in for the traditional governor’s talk, and spend the next 30 days solely to offer bills.
That done, lawmakers then take a monthlong break to regroup, scrutinize bills, have hearings with constituents, then come back in 30 days for the normal 60-day session.
“This institution has been here for many, many, many years in its current form,” Moore said this week.
“I love this process. I love this institution. I would certainly never do anything or say anything that’s going to besmirch this institution. But as times change, we need to look at the institution and perhaps amend it somehow. We need to come up with an alternative way of meeting so we could be more responsive to the citizens of West Virginia to the current trends, while at the same time respecting the viability and survivability of this institution.”
Moore bristled at the word “reform” and emphasized the idea is his alone and not one he has discussed with his colleagues.
Under his game plan, no other business could be handled other than introducing bills in the first 30-day bloc. And, once that month expires, no more bills could be put into the hoppers.
Then come the 30-day individual sessions, with delegates and senators going directly to the voters in their districts to discuss bills.
Moore took his cue from a Doobie Brothers hit, “Takin’ It To The Streets,” to characterize the hearings and discussion of pending bills on the home front.
“This is just an individual thought I’ve had,” he said.
“I’ve had this thought for maybe four or five months. I just think how we do things now because the world move so fast, there is so much information, and the needs are changing, that we need to be adaptable to some of those changes and be able to be in position to better serve the people of West Virginia with a better product in terms of legislation.”
Many a lawmaker will say they find the last two weeks harrowing, but Moore doesn’t share this sentiment.
“No, I don’t think it’s overwhelming, burdensome, or frustrating,” he said. “I just think it’s so compact that we’re used to doing business in such a usual fashion that we need to look at some alternatives, and I think this is one of them.
“And I’m sure there are many delegates and senators who have much more of an expanded idea on this situation than I do.”
Pressure mounts in the rush to the finish line, but Moore isn’t one who tends to feel it.
“I don’t think we’re under the gun so much,” he said.
“I just think, again, the way this institution is designed to work, it does put a little more emphasis on time in the last 10 to 14 days than maybe it should. Maybe we can relieve some of that pressure by meeting in an alternative fashion.”
To get where Moore wants to take the Legislature likely would require voter approval in a constitutional change, he said, and West Virginians would welcome it.
“I think they would love the idea,” he said.
Besides taking government directly to the people before decisions are made on bills, there is possibly another advantage that Moore envisions — an elimination of the monthly, three-day interims meetings.
“And we would still be meeting about the same number of days,” he pointed out.
“All of us would be bound by oath to go back and meet with our constituents,” he said. “For 30 days, we would take it to the streets. We would be more prepared, be more informed, and get a better sense of what the consciousness is and come back here and do a better job of representing them.”
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