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Some legislative sessions generate a lot of déjà vu

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During a legislative session, the introduction of numerous bills and the passage of legislation is something expected. 

Debate, discussion and hours of talking about the myriad issues contained in the introduced legislation are synonymous with the task at hand, rather than 100 elected West Virginia delegates enjoying a 60-day-long social gathering.

When it comes to the number of bills introduced, the bills that actually become law and the subject matter of the introduced legislation, are there any trends? Has there been an increase or decrease in the amount of legislation introduced and passed since West Virginia gained statehood on June 20, 1863?

While it's difficult to go back 150 years, it is possible to go back quite a few and look.

A look back

Gregory Gray, Clerk of the House of Delegates and Keeper of the Rolls of the Legislature, said that over the years, there has not been much of an increase or decrease in the amount of legislation introduced and legislation passed.

Gray has been clerk of the House since 1995 but has walked the halls of the Capitol as a staff member on a daily basis since 1973. Gray was the assistant clerk from 1978 until 1995.

When it comes to legislation introduced, Gray said 2,000 is the magic number.

"We'll introduce upwards of 2,000 bills in the House this year with the carry over bills and the bills where we will introduce new stuff," he said. "In the Senate, it will probably be 700 or 800, maybe close to 1,000."

Minority Vice Chairman Delegate John O'Neal IV, R-Raleigh, who was elected in 2010, said that of the 2,000 bills, some are carried over from years past.

"It's not like there's 2,000 new bills introduced every year," O'Neal said. "It's some of the same bills that have probably been introduced for five or 10 years in a row."

Of the bills that get introduced in both the House and Senate, Gray said about 8 percent to 10 percent usually pass.

For any bill to become law, it has to first pass both the House and Senate and then be signed by the governor.

"Basically, we can figure on about 10 percent of the bills that are introduced in both Houses are going to pass," he said. "That's just a guesstimate, but that holds pretty true."

When all is said and done, literally, Gray said one can usually expect 200 to 250 new bills to become law.

Different types of bills

Delegate Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell, elected to the House in 2006, said during his time in the House of Delegates the amount of legislation introduced and passed has been roughly the same and that while it is "always really slow the first 20 or 30 days," it "picks up after that."

 While Reynolds said he's sure there are always bills that aren't needed, some bills simply have a smaller constituency base.

O'Neal said another category bills fall into is the "repeat" category, especially if a delegate is passionate about a particular issue. 

"I think that a lot of  (the) bills are automatically reintroduced every year," he said. "Say a particular delegate has some bills that they're very passionate about and they introduce it this year. It doesn't get taken up in a committee. 

"You get kind of a memo from the staff that says, ‘Do you want this bill to be introduced next year?' and so they'll often say, ‘Yeah.'

"So what ends up happening is those kind of things accumulate, I think."

If a significant number of members don't carry the same vigor and passion for an issue that is important to that particular delegate, O'Neal said that bill likely will not get very far.

Another category of bills, O'Neal said, are those prompted by a constituent contacting a lawmaker.

"Often a legislator might be contacted by a constituent and they may say, ‘You know, there ought to be a law regarding this or regarding that,''' he explained.

Although the lawmaker may propose the suggested legislation, there is no guarantee it will move forward successfully.

Little packages carry big punch

According to Reynolds, it is sometimes the small constituency-based bills that generate the most controversy and passion.

"Some of those bills create the most amount of controversy," he said. "I would say that often times, bills, even with very small but very compassionate constituencies, can end up soaking up an incredible amount of time."

Reynolds recalls spending about three weeks of the 60-day session on bow hunting and cross bow hunting rules bills during his time on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Although the amount of legislation introduced and passed has remained relatively consistent throughout the years, the subject matter is wide and varied.

"There's no way to determine (subject matter) but each session has its hot issues," Gray said.

Last year, the Legislature addressed home rule, which allowed municipalities to streamline local government and operate more independently, rather than relying on state government. 

"That generated a lot of intense feelings, especially for people in Charleston," Reynolds said. "If you were in Charleston that was an important bill because they want to be part of home rule but they don't want the state telling them they can't keep firearms." 

What has been a hot topic this session?

"Now we're talking about water quality standards," Gray said. "That's on everybody's mind."