Senators also debated an election bill on the floor today, one that deals with how the governor is required to fill vacancies in elected offices. The bill is the result of a 2016 resignation in the Senate, one by a former member who changed party affiliation to give Republicans a majority in the chamber.
After the 2014 election, representation in the West Virginia Senate was split between political parties, 17 Republicans and 17 Democrats.
One member, former Sen. Daniel Hall, chose to switch his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican and give the GOP a majority in the chamber for the first time in more than 80 years.
Senate Bill 255 requires the governor to fill a vacated elected position with a person from the party the former official was a member of at the time of his or her resignation. That’s what state law currently says after a 2016 Supreme Court decision in the Daniel Hall case.
Democratic Sen. Corey Palumbo, however, moved to amend the bill Thursday so that vacancies would have to be filled by people from the same party at the time of a person’s election, pointing to the potential for corruption.
“Why would we want to give somebody the opportunity to change parities right before they resign in order to get a political favor for themselves?" Democratic Sen. Mike Romano said in support of Palumbo's amendment.
Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump said the bill sticks to the Supreme Court decision and legislators should keep it the same.
“The people elect a person, they don’t elect a party and we shouldn’t lose sight of that," he said. "Those of you who are elected are more than the member of single political party. You are a person who lives in a community who represents people, and so to say the only criterion is about political party is incorrect."
Palumbo, however, argued the will of the voters' is being overturned by the bill. He said no other state has codified a similar procedure.
“There’s no problem you can invite by saying, if someone changes parties and resigns, we’re going to fill that spot with how they are elected," he said. "I understand we do elect people, we don’t elect parties necessarily, but people care about your party.”
Palumbo’s amendment failed in the chamber and the bill will be up for a vote tomorrow.