This article originally provided by The Herald-Dispatch

February 19, 2007

Certain measures just keep returning

The Associated Press

CHARLESTON -- There's something familiar about the 2007 legislative session, and it's not just the returning incumbents.

Abortion. Capital punishment. Public financing of elections. Couch burning.

These are all subjects of bills, or versions of bills, that have been considered before but have failed to gain passage. Some have a chance to become law this year, while others will have to wait until next year -- or longer.

Monday is the last day for Senate bills to be introduced, with the House of Delegates deadline falling on Friday. Anyone unfamiliar with the Legislature may be surprised that of the hundreds of bills that will meet those deadlines, many are simply new versions of previously unsuccessful pieces of legislation.

But that's all part of the deliberative culture of the body, experts and lawmakers say, which takes its time before making new laws. And there's even value in perennial longshots with little chance of becoming law, advocates say.

The first thing to remember is that the Legislature invariably introduces far more bills than it passes. In the 2006 regular session, for instance, the number of bills sent to Gov. Joe Manchin was just over 10 percent of the total introduced: 264 out of 2,301. Manchin ended up signing 258 into law.

Advocates of various bills, though, have learned they can expect to wait multiple years for even popular pieces of legislation to become law. Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizens Action Group, is backing two pieces of legislation that have come up previously in multiple years.

One would provide for candidates to voluntarily participate in the public funding of election campaigns, and the other would create a deposit on glass bottles and aluminum cans. Anyone backing legislation has to understand it's not an all-or-nothing proposition, Zuckett said.

"It's something you have to keep working at," he said. "Hopefully, one year the legislation moves a little closer to passage than the year before. It can get frustrating, though."

There are advantages to the process, however, Zuckett says. As a measure advances through committees and meets with questions and opposition, it lets lawmakers craft better versions of the bill in the future.

Zuckett said the legislation his group is backing has improved because of legislative scrutiny and even opposition from other groups across the state.

"The bottle bill we have today is a much stronger product," he said.

Of course, there's patience, and then there's the kind of commitment displayed by Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley. Every year for more than two decades, Overington has introduced legislation that would reinstate capital punishment in West Virginia. With successive House leadership teams evidently uninterested, he has also tried to get the measure passed by inserting it as an amendment into other legislation. So far, it's been an uphill effort.

But Overington, citing public opinion polls and the laws of neighboring states, said there's value simply in drawing attention to the issue.

"For issues the public overwhelmingly supports, they need to know there are advocates out there," he said.


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