Citizen's Guide to the Legislature

The Committee Process

Types of Committees
There are seven types of committees: standing committees, select committees, committees of the whole, conference committees, subcommittees, interim committees and oversight/ investigative committees.

Standing Committees
Standing committees are created within each body - and jointly - for permanent existence. They have specific jurisdictions, or scopes of interest, and are permanently created because of the continuous flow of issues relating to those jurisdictions. For example, since there likely will be a constant need to address financial issues and legislation, both bodies have standing finance committees and there is a Joint Standing Finance Committee comprised of members of each body’s finance committee.

The number and titles of standing committees differ between the Senate and House are set forth in the rules of each body. (House Rules & Senate Rules)

Select Committees
Select committees are created by each body to address specific issues and report their findings and any recommendations to the full body.

Upon the completion of its specified tasks, a select committee is discharged from its duties and dissolved by the presiding officer of the parent body. For example, if the House would like a committee to address the weight limits on our state’s roads, it may create within the House a select committee on state roads’ weight limits. Upon that committee’s report of its findings and recommendations, the House speaker would then disband the committee.

Committees of the whole
A committee of the whole is merely an informal gathering of the full membership of either the Senate or the House of Delegates to consider a specific issue or bill.

During a gathering of the committee of the whole of either body, the presiding officer of that body, either the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House, leaves the chair and appoints another member to chair the committee of the whole.

Conference Committees
For a bill to become law, identical versions of the bill must pass both the Senate and House of Delegates.

Many times, however, the Senate or the House amends, or makes changes, to a bill already passed by the other body. When neither body will recede or retract its changes to the bill, the bill in question is referred to a conference committee comprised of members of both bodies.

Though the number of conference committee members varies, there are always an equal number of members from each body - usually three. A notable exception to this is a conference committee formed to resolve differences in the annual budget bill, when five members from each body are assigned.

Conference committees are formed to resolve differences between the Senate and House versions of a bill, whereupon the bill is returned to each body for passage or rejection and the conference committee discharged.

Committees may create within themselves subcommittees, chaired by and comprised of members of the original committee. These subcommittees are created to address one or more specific bills or issues being taken up by the original committee, and report findings and recommendations to the original committee. For example, if a bill which would alter the state’s child support enforcement policies has been referred to the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, that committee’s chair may assign from that committee a subcommittee chair and members of a subcommittee to review the child support enforcement bill.

Interim Committees
Approximately once a month during the period between regular sessions - the interim - the Legislature gathers in Charleston (or another location in the state) for three days of committee meetings.

The Interim Committees usually are joint committees, with members of both the Senate and House of Delegates working together as single groups. For example, the Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization is made up of members of both the Senate Government Organization Committee and the House of Delegates Goverment Organization Committee.

The interim committees’ primary purpose is to provide a forum for the continuing study of issues relevant to the future of the state. During each interim gathering, members discuss and hear public comment on issues which may be addressed during an upcoming regular session. The joint nature of these interim committees allows members of the Senate and House of Delegates to consider issues and legislation which may affect both bodies in a similar manner.

Many times, bills to be introduced during the next regular session are drafted, studied and rewritten long before the session begins. Also, bills that did not pass during the previous session may be revisited during the interim period for reworking.

Some bills previously rejected by the Legislature still need some fine-tuning before the Legislature passes them into law. Hence, the interims allow for reconsideration, reworking and possible reintroduction at the next formal gathering of the Legislature.

The interim meetings also allow the Legislature to monitor the effects of current and recently-passed legislation. For example, if a bill has passed which alters the state’s environmental policies, an interim committee may be assigned to study its continuing effects on the state’s economy, our citizens’ health, and other related issues.

Oversight/Investigative Committees
Besides the joint standing committees, the Legislature has two other types of interim committees: oversight and investigative.

Oversight committees oversee the general operations of certain state agencies. Officials from those agencies and other invited guests update the interim committee members on the progress of programs, fiscal responsibilities and other issues.

Investigative committees are formed during the regular session by the adoption of resolutions or by specific language included within a piece of legislation passed during the session. Their purpose is to study specific issues as required by those resolutions or bills and report their findings back to the Legislature.

Committee Sessions
The rules of procedure governing the body apply to proceedings of committees insofar as is practical and applicable. However, committee proceedings are usually less formal and often rules are relaxed in order to provide free discussion and not handicap the work of the committee.

Generally speaking, Committees follow the same rules and procedures as the Senate and House during a floor session. Members are asked not to address one another by name, but by referring to fellow members by their district or county; as in “The gentleman from the 31st district”, or “The lady from Cabell County”. Direct derogatory comments against individuals are out of order. Although Committee business is conducted in a formal and decorous fashion, the Committee Chairman does encourage full participation and the free exchange of ideas and opinions.

Authority of Committee with Reference to Bills
Bills referred to committee are treated as resolutions of inquiry. A committee may hold bills without taking any action on them, table them, disapprove them, or report them back without recommendation as to their passage, report them for reference to another committee, or report them with the recommendation that they do pass, with or without amendment.

Committee Meetings & Hearings
All actions of committees must be taken at a duly constituted meeting. Informal actions on matters before the committee are improper. A member cannot cast a vote, except during a meeting of the committee, and proxy votes are not permitted. It is improper for the Chair to poll members on a proposal outside of the committee meeting, for a member to request any other member to vote for him/her during any absence, for a member to inform the Chair, another member, or the Committee Clerk how he/she wished to vote except in a duly constituted meeting, to allow a member under any circumstance to vote by proxy. Such a vote is void.

Committees do not meet while the body is in session. At the time set for the body to meet, it is the duty of the Chair to adjourn the meeting of the committee, and for all members to attend the session.

It is not in order for a committee to report a bill or other matter which was not considered at a committee meeting regularly held, and it is the duty of the presiding officer of the body to refuse to accept any report on a bill or other matter when he has knowledge that it was not so considered and acted upon.

Order of Consideration of Bills
A committee can expedite its business by authorizing the Chair to prepare a schedule of bills and resolutions to be considered at each meeting. In the House, the committee may take up measures in the order in which they were referred, or take them upon motion, or upon general consent in the absence of a daily agenda or calendar.

A committee usually considers a measure by sections, giving an opportunity for discussion and amendment of each section before proceeding to the next. The question is not put on each section, but is reserved until consideration of the bill is completed and the question is then put on the whole measure.

Committee Procedure
The Chairman will announce the meetings in advance. Afternoon meeting times are usually announced at the conclusion of the daily Floor Session. Morning meetings are usually announced at the end of the previous day’s Committee meeting. The Chairman calls the meetings to order when a quorum (majority of members) is present and seated at their places. There will be a seating chart made by the Chairman.

Roll Call
The first item of business is a roll call by the committee clerk, starting to the immediate left of the Chairman and continuing clockwise around the table. This roll call is used merely to establish the existence of a quorum.

Consideration of Bills
At the start of consideration of each bill, the Chairman will entertain a motion to report that bill out of the Committee to the main body of the Senate or the House. The Chairman will ask “Is there interest in Senate/House Bill #____?”, at which point any member of the Committee may volunteer to make the motion to report out the bill. The attorney who has been assigned to work on the bill will then explain the provisions of the bill to the Committee. The attorney will give a brief summary of what the bill proposes, and will explain what changes in existing law would occur should the bill pass. When the attorney is finished with the explanation, any Committee member may ask the attorney to clarify points of the bill.

At times there are people in the room who have expertise regarding provisions of the bill under consideration. Normally these people are employees of state agencies that execute the provisions of the bill, or it may be a person who has expertise because of other experience in the area of discussion. It is always in order to ask for unanimous consent that such a person be allowed to answer technical questions regarding the bill. It is out of order to try to elicit such a speaker or a staff member to state an opinion for or against the provisions of the bill.

Once all questions have been satisfactorily answered, the Chairman will entertain any motions to amend. If a member knows in advance that he/she wishes to propose an Amendment, they must have it ready by the beginning of the meeting, and give it to the committee clerk before the meeting starts. However, it often occurs that amendments come up during the discussion of the bill. In this case, a member may write out their amendment and bring it up to the committee clerk during the meeting. All amendments must be in writing.

Amendments will usually be considered in the order in which the committee clerk receives them. If there are two or more amendments to the same section, the Chairman may ask the sponsors of the amendments to combine them into one amendment. In the event that two amendments may be in conflict with one another, the Chairman will so note and allow the Committee to hear both amendments before voting on the first one.

The sponsor of each amendment will be allowed to speak to the Committee, detailing the provisions of the amendment, and why the sponsor believes that the amendment should be adopted. If there is debate on the amendment, the sponsor of the amendment will be allowed to “close debate”, which is to say, the sponsor will be the final speaker before the actual vote. No member may speak more than twice on the same question or motion, but asking technical questions of counsel does not count as a speaking turn. Also, speaking twice to a motion to amend the bill will not affect a member’s ability to speak to the actual motion to report out the bill.

If a member of the Committee feels that an amendment is not “germane”, that is, it does not pertain to the actual subject matter of the bill, that member may ask the chairman to rule on whether the amendment is germane to the bill. If the Chairman rules that the amendment is not germane, the amendment must be withdrawn.

Once any discussion on a motion is completed, the Chairman will call for those in favor to say “aye” and those opposed, “nay”. The Chairman will then say either “The ayes appear to have it”, or “The nays appear to have it”, as the case may be. At this point, if any member believes that the Chairman is mistaken, that member may ask for a vote by show of hands by calling for a “division”. If division is called, the chair will ask those in favor to raise their hands, followed by those opposed to make the same sign. The committee clerk will count the votes and the Chairman will announce the results.

If a member demands a roll call vote, the demand must be sustained by one tenth of the Committee (three members). If the demand is sustained the committee clerk will call the roll, and each member will say “aye” or “nay” when his or her name is called.

After all amendments have been considered, the Committee returns to the previous motion to report out the bill. This is then voted on in the same manner as described above. The Chairman then turns to the next bill and the process begins again.

Committee Report
Once all changes are made and agreed to by a committee - which may require several meetings - a motion is made to report the measure out to the floor in one of the following ways:

- with the recommendation that it “do pass” in its original form, or with amendments suggested by the committee, or as a committee substitute; or,

- with the recommendation that the bill be rejected

- with no recommendation at all

This report along with the original bill and any committee amendments are filed with the appropriate Clerk so the report can be read on the floor and the bill can be placed on the calendar.

Not all legislation is reported back from the committees. Those measures, which are not reported by the end of the session, are considered to have “died in committee.”

Minority Report
In the House, a minority of any committee may present its views and recommendations in writing with the report of the committee. When there is a minority report presented, it should be read following the committee report and before acceptance of the committee report. A minority report and the recommendations may, by vote of the body, be substituted for, and become, the report of the committee.

Supplemental Report
In the House, a committee may submit a written supplemental report on a bill containing an analysis of said bill or a statement of the intent or purpose of the bill. Such a report may be amended by the body and by order of the body printed in the Journal.

Proposed legislation pending before committees constitutes the vehicles for establishing statewide policy. For this reason, the public, particularly the persons directly affected by the proposed legislation, have the right to be heard. It is essential that the opportunity for public hearings and adequate facilities for such hearings be provided. The Rules of the House and Senate provide for such hearings. Adequate advance notice of such hearings should be given by public announcement.

Committees of the House and Senate may hold joint hearings on important and far-reaching bills. Joint hearings avoid duplication and afford the opportunity for both houses to hear the same testimony, eliminate the necessity for witnesses to attend dual hearings and conserve available research and clerical assistance.

A public hearing is intended to give the public the opportunity to express its views regarding a measure. Members of the committee may ask questions of persons appearing before the committee, but it is not advisable to engage the persons so appearing in debate. The committee chair should not make his/her own position on a measure obvious during a hearing to avoid the appearance of being prejudiced.

No final action is taken upon any measure at a public hearing.

Citizen members
Legislators are not the only citizens to serve on interim committees. State agency officials and private citizens with specific knowledge and experience in areas of concern often are appointed to serve on committees relevant to their field of expertise. These citizen members are appointed to serve either the Governor, the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House.

Public Access
Other than executive sessions - designated closed meetings - all committee meetings and hearings are open to the public. In addition, citizens may request to speak at scheduled public hearings as well as request that public hearings be held on particular issues and bills.

For more information and/or participating in committee meetings and public hearings, contact your representatives in the Legislature or the Legislature’s Office of Reference & Information at 1-877-565-3447.

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