What’s become a common courtesy in the West Virginia House of Delegates was a source of brief legislative hindrance Tuesday afternoon.
By the end of the legislative day, it appeared party leaders had come to an agreement over an objection to add comments of Democratic delegates to the appendix of the House Journal, which is the official record of the legislative business in the chamber.
The House rejected a motion by House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, to add comments made by Democratic delegates as they debated House Bill 2012, establishing charter schools in the state.
Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, objected to Fluharty’s initial request for the comments to be added to the journal, a common practice in the House that Graves said later Tuesday had become all too common. The staff in the House of Delegates Clerk’s Office have to transcribe all of the comments and check them for clarity, either during their free time during the session, or in the weeks after the session ends.
“The long and short of it is the one thing I don’t want to have happen is I don’t want to stifle the sentiment,” Graves said. “If there’s something sentimental or significant, I want that in there. I don’t want an entire debate.”
Fluharty said Tuesday he initially requested then made the motion for delegates’ comments to be added since many of the delegates who spoke were serving their first term in the House and had made their first remarks on the bill.
He also said having comments printed in the appendix of the journal helped articulate legislative intent and build public record for legislative proceedings, adding he held concerns about the transparency of the legislative session during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When you are objecting to members’ remarks being memorialized in the journal, you’re erasing what happened,” Fluharty said after the floor session Tuesday. “You’re erasing the record, and you’re erasing the ability to reflect back on that record in the future.”
Graves and House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, reached an agreement Tuesday afternoon wherein Graves planned to request that comments from the new delegates be added to the journal, instead of what she said was basically an entire debate.
Skaff is the president of HD Media, publisher of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Graves said the appendix of the journal wasn’t the appropriate place for lawmakers to express legislative intent.
“We need to craft our bills in such a way that they’re clear and concise,” Graves said.
House Clerk Steve Harrison said before 2000 delegates had to request for their own comments to be added to the journal, but that a rule change that year made it so other delegates could request that any delegate’s comments be added to the journal.
It has only been in the past few years that delegates began requesting basically entire debates about certain bills be added to the journal, he said.
Staff in the House Clerk’s Office record proceedings on the House floor, and they use those recordings to construct the journal, Harrison said.
The daily audio and video of House proceedings that are livestreamed on the Legislature’s website aren’t archived for future review. All proceedings in the Senate are archived and publicly accessible on the Legislature’s website.
In 2003, the appendix of the journal was 41 pages, Harrison said. By 2009, it was 53 pages.
In 2017, the appendix grew to 190 pages, and in 2018, the appendix of the Journal of the House of Delegates was 201 pages long, he said.
“It is more work, but we do what the members request,” Harrison said. “If the House orders something to be printed in the appendix of the journal, then we will print it in the appendix of the journal.”