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Shift in House of Delegates dynamic

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Following the rule change enacted by the leadership of the House of Delegates on the second day of the 2014 Legislative session, many questions have arisen as to why. 

What was the purpose for changing the rules regarding the Daily, or active, and the House, or inactive, calendars and how bills move from one to the other? 

To better understand why, many suggest first looking at what the rule change actually does.

House Resolution 2

Before the adoption of House Resolution 2, House leadership — who make up the House Rules Committee — could only move bills from the Active Calendar to the Inactive Calendar after 30 days had expired in the regular, 60-day session. With the adoption of House Resolution 2, the utilization of the two calendars by leadership will begin immediately, without any restraints regarding the amount of days that have passed.

Under House Resolution 2, "nothing on the House Calendar shall take precedence over items on the Daily Calendar without a two-thirds vote. Nothing can be removed from the Daily Calendar without a majority by the Committee on Rules and a majority vote by the Committee on Rules can add a removed item to the schedule once again."

Currently, there are 18 members of the Rule Committee. 

If the language is taken on its face, the change makes it easier to take things off the Daily, or Active, Calendar than it is to put a particular issue that the house majority may want to discuss but can't … due to the fact that the issue has been put on the Inactive Calendar … back on the Active Calendar. Simple, right?

The hands of a few

Many suggest that the policy could lead to problems.

As the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce explained in an email blast to its members, prior to the "historic 30-day time frame" before the House switches to two calendars during each session, "the leadership could move bills from the Daily Calendar (active) to the House Calendar (inactive) and vice-versa only after the 30th day of the session. 

"Any bills reported to the floor before the 30-day mark were put on only one calendar and therefore could be considered by the House."

The Chamber goes on to say that the "significantly changed rules to take away power from the House as a whole," and the change advocated by the leadership of the House of Delegates was "brought up suddenly and with little previous discussion."

Losing the process of debate

Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, said that while the change in rules has the potential to sync bills together, important issues that delegates want to discuss could easily get lost due to a lack of control the full House will have in what goes on and off the calendar, which determines what is discussed. Debate, which is important in moving West Virginia forward, he said, is greatly stifled.

Also sharing Lane's concern about the concentration of power is Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.

Armstead, the House minority leader, voiced his concern that ten people have the power to override a majority and the power of a few leads to a concentration of power.

Many argued on the House floor before a vote on the resolution that when it comes to improving efficiency, other alternatives exist without changing the current rules.

Armstead and Lane both asked why the rule change was necessary and questioned the motive behind it.

Lane wondered if simply stalling bills was the motivating factor.

For some, changing the rules signified a way to achieve personal means and ends.

"If you change the rules because you can't get what you want … is that really representing the will of the people?" Armstead asked. "I'm afraid that's what this is going to be seen as."

The controversial topics

When it comes to controversial topics, Lane argues that it will only be that much easier to move them to the Inactive Calendar in order to avoid a floor discussion. 

With the majority of the Rules Committee, which is ten people, having the power to take things off the Active Calendar, one could argue that it would be all too easy a task.

And considering it takes two-thirds, not a majority, to bring an issue back from the dead, i.e. the Inactive Calendar, that logic is only more secured in stone according to some. 

So how to change it back? Lane said overturning the rule change would most likely happen only with a change in the leadership majority.