CHARLESTON - Local state lawmakers are weighing in on how the major committees in the House of Delegates should be divided among Democrats and Republicans.
As Republicans made significant gains during the last election and now hold 46 of the 100 seats in the House, the make-up of the major committees now needs to reflect this new ratio on the finance, education, judiciary and government organization committees as well as the health committee, which was recently elevated to "major" committee status.
Each of the major committees has 25 seats.
Under the new make-up of the House, Republicans would be eligible to have 11.5 members serve on each of the major committees, lawmakers said. Because that is not possible, debate has been going on as to whether committees would have 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans or 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans.
With numbers so close, absent committee members at any meeting where legislation is being considered to be sent on to the full House could determine whether those bills move forward or not.
Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said when similar situations have come up in the past where there was a unique breakdown in the numbers, a compromise was reached where some committees have one option while the other option will be done on other committees.
"I would think the Republicans will be allotted 12 on some committees and 11 on others," Anderson said.
In drawing up committee assignments, the House Speaker is advised by the Minority Leader (who is Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha) on who should go where, Anderson said.
"The Speaker usually takes the Minority Leader's advice," he said. "Ultimately, it is the Speaker's decision."
Regardless, Anderson said it will be important for people to be able to attend committee meetings.
With legislators serving on multiple committees and committee chairmen serving on the finance committee, times when legislation is being considered becomes more important for people to attend, he said.
However, Anderson does not expect to see a drastic change in how business is conducted.
"We do a good job of being able to put the politics aside and pass good legislation for the state of West Virginia," he said. "We do not play the extreme partisan games people see in Washington, D.C."
However, Anderson said the minority will fight if it thinks something is not right and hopes if it presents a reasonable proposition, it will be embraced by the majority.
Anderson said there are Democrats who are more conservative than others and there are Republicans who are more liberal than others. Many issues come down to how people in different parts of the state feel about something.
"The divide is not between liberal and conservative," he said. "The difference is more philosophical and geographic. Those lines are more pronounced."
Delegate Anna Border, R-Wood, believes a compromise will be reached with different committees having the different divisions.
"It is the only thing they could do," she said. "It will be interesting to see what they will come up with."
She believes that is why it has taken so long for committee assignments to be handed out as the House leadership is trying to figure out where the divisions will be made.
Border believes the Democrats are advising their people to be diligent in attending their meetings to maintain their majority.
"If the tables were reversed, we would be advising our people to attend their meetings," she said.
Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, said if the major committees remain at 25 members each, he believes a compromise will be made where some committees will see 12 Republicans on some and 11 on others.
"That is understandable and workable," he said. "It would still only take a couple of votes to swing something in one direction or another.
"I think it is going to require us to work a lot closer with one another."
Ellem is hopeful he will be appointed again to the judiciary committee and can again serve as the minority chairman. However, the decision has not been made on who will serve where or which committees will have the 13 to 12 or the 14 to 11 divisions.
"The numbers are now more equal than they have ever been," Ellem said.
With the numbers so close, Ellem believes the Legislature will take up a number of issues, important to a lot of people, like education reform.
"Each individual vote becomes more important," he said.