Can Justice Block Session?

Will members of the West Virginia House of Delegates convene as scheduled on Monday? I think so — though it may be within the power of Gov. Jim Justice to stop them.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, has called delegates back to a special session in Charleston, pursuant to a call issued March 7 by the governor.

Justice made that proclamation as the regular annual session of the Legislature was winding down, and had failed to approve a major public education package, including a 5% raise for school employees. The governor said a special session on “education betterment” was needed — but his proclamation didn’t specify a date for the gathering.

In late May, legislators did convene a special session, but it was for the purpose of correcting language in a number of bills the governor had vetoed. Then, earlier this month, state senators met and approved two bills. One is a comprehensive measure including controversial issues such as charter schools. The other, also disliked by officials of the three school employee unions, would establish education savings accounts to help parents who want to send their children to private schools.

House Republicans have taken a different approach, with Hanshaw saying he does not believe the existing Senate comprehensive bill can pass his chamber. Instead, delegates will look at a variety of narrower, more specific bills.

Or will they?

This week, House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, asked Justice and Hanshaw to cancel the House’s special session. Hanshaw won’t do that, of course.

But how about Justice? He and some GOP senators have been trading barbs during the past few days. The dislike is both professional and personal. It is professional in that the governor doesn’t like the Senate’s Student Success Act.

Legally, it appears it could be possible for Justice to scrap the House session — though I emphasize I’m neither a lawyer nor an authority on the state constitution.

But the constitution stipulates only the governor can call legislators into a special session. It adds that he must do so if three-fifths, or 60%, of members of both the Senate and House request him to do so.

So, could Justice rescind his special session proclamation of earlier this year? Would it make a difference that the Senate already has met?

And, should he try to do that, could lawmakers override him by getting 60% of their membership to sign a letter insisting on a special session?

Probably not. The Senate has 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats. That gives the GOP only 58.8%, and Senate Democrats have been against the Student Success Act solidly.

What about the House? The math is easy there, with 41 Democrats and 59 Republicans, still a hair under the required 60 percent.

And, if you really want to delve into the fine print of the constitution, there’s an interesting provision under the section that requires each bill to be read three times, unless 80% of lawmakers in the chamber where it is being acted upon agree to waive two of the readings. The very last sentence of that section reads: “Provided, in all cases, that an engrossed bill shall be fully and distinctly read in each house.”

Once a bill has been approved by one of the Legislature’s two chambers, it is considered engrossed. Again, I’m no expert, but that could be construed as requiring that once the Senate or House has passed a bill, the other chamber has to be given a chance to deal with it.

So, technically, it might — or might not — be possible for Justice to block the House.

Politically, it would be crazy, however. Telling the elected representatives of the people they cannot even meet to discuss an important issue wouldn’t go over very well with most West Virginians, I suspect.

I don’t think the governor wants that kind of constitutional crisis, so look for the delegates to meet bright and early Monday.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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