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House debates rule changes on second day of session

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A debate over a potential rule change took the main stage in the House of Delegates during the second day of the 2014 regular legislative session.

A rules change advocated by the majority party was discussed, which had been voted out of the House Rules Committee on a party-line vote and would remove the historic 30-day time frame in place before the House can switch to two calendars -- the active and the inactive calendars.

As it currently stands, House leadership can move bills from the daily, or active, calendar to the House Calendar, also called the inactive calendar, and vice-versa after the 30th day of the regular, 60-day session. Any bills that pass a committee before the 30-day mark are put on only one calendar and therefore may be considered by the House. The rules change would allow House leadership to begin utilizing two calendars immediately in the session.

Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, presented an amendment to the bill that would have allowed House members more opportunity to decide what issues are and are not discussed.

Under the current rule, issues can become bottlenecked and the rules committee has the power to decide what does and does not make it to the House floor.

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

Armstead voiced his concern that eight or 10 people have the power to override a majority and the power of a few leads to a concentration of power.

While those in opposition to the amendment but in favor of the resolution said it would produce efficiency, those in favor of the amendment and opposed to the resolution disagreed and said there are other ways to enhance efficiency without changing the current rules.

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

The bottom line, Armstead, is that the power lies in the hands of 10 people, rather than the majority. 

"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 well."

The amendment failed by a majority vote. The resolution passed.

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 vote by the Committee on Rules, and a majority vote by the Committee on Rules can add a removed item to the schedule once again.