The West Virginia Legislature could convene in Wheeling to celebrate the state's 150th birthday under legislation being considered in Charleston.
The move would bring state lawmakers and legislative staff workers to the Northern Panhandle for a three-day period, necessitating a need for hotel rooms, meeting rooms and transportation.
House Concurrent Resolution 50 - introduced by Delegates Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, and Ryan Ferns, D-Ohio - requests the Legislature's June interim session take place in Wheeling and coincide with the state's sesquicentennial celebration on June 20.
The courtroom in West Virginia Independence Halls sits empty today, but members of the West Virginia Legislature could fill it once again as part of the state’s 150th birthday
Photo by Joselyn King
The measure passed the House by a voice vote last week, and is now before the Senate Rules Committee. Storch said the bill should have no problem passing the Senate with the help of Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall.
On Wednesday, Storch was in communication with Frank O'Brien, executive director of the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, discussing the availability of hotel rooms locally during the third week of June.
She also has been working with the Marshall County Chamber of Commerce and the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce to arrange events for the lawmakers. There will be a need to provide them transportation to the events, Storch continued.
"We're trying to make arrangements to do a symbolic resolution in West Virginia Independence Hall so everyone can see it," she said. "We're still working on some items with Marshall County, like a trip to Grand Vue Park and ziplining so people know what is available in the Northern Panhandle."
Storch continued it "seemed logical" to hold the June interim sessions in Wheeling to tie in with state sesquicentennial celebrations.
"It is an opportunity for legislators to come to Wheeling, tour The Highlands, and have the benefit to see how successful the TIF investment has been - all the businesses that have spun off from it," she said.
Education committee meetings could take place at local colleges, and tours of Wheeling Park High School or the Ohio County Schools also could be arranged, Storch added.
Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, speaker pro-tempore in the House of Delegates, said the Legislature previously has traveled to other parts of the state for interim meetings, but that this practice stopped when the recession hit and the Legislature was forced to curb finances.
He hopes a legislative visit to Wheeling might help to re-establish the practice.
"It gave members a chance to see other parts of the state, and what's important to other areas," Swartzmiller said.
"We just have to make sure there is availability of hotel rooms. A lot of rooms are pretty much taken all the time. They're working now on making sure there are places for people to stay."
It's likely facilities at Oglebay Park would be central to the operations of the Legislature, he continued.
O'Brien said he has secured 180 rooms in local hotels for the third week of June in the event the Legislature comes to Wheeling.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to expose members of the Legislature to the birthplace of West Virginia," he said. "We will take every opportunity we can to make sure if the Legislature visits Wheeling, they visit places credited with the beginning of the state."
Shannon Riley, a staff member with the Joint Committee on Government and Finance, estimates 130 hotel rooms would be needed to accommodate traveling lawmakers and legislative workers if interim sessions are re-located to Wheeling.
"The meetings are an opportunity to showcase all the wonderful things happening in a part of the state not everybody gets to," she said. "We now just need to arrange travel and transportation, and make sure they get where they need to be."