West Virginia's government is divided into three branches - The Executive; the Legislative; and the Judicial - which make up the checks and balances and system. This system allows for each branch to maintain an amount of power but not be exceeded by the other two branches.
The Executive Branch
The first branch is the executive branch. Its primary function is to carry out or execute laws made by the Legislature or the Constitution. It must also administer the daily affairs of the state. To help carry out its duties, West Virginia voters elect six key figures:
The most well-known figure of these six officials is the governor. The governor is elected by the voters to a four-year term with a maximum of two consecutive terms. One of the many privileges granted to the governor is the right to address the Legislature in the annual State of the State Address. The address conveys the governor's priorities for the state, as well as his agenda for the legislature. He also delivers to the Legislature his proposed budget for the state. The budget is expected expenditure for the state.
In addition to delivering his state of the state address, the governor also is given the veto privilege. The governor may use the veto if a piece of legislature does not conform to the administrations philosophy and cannot be modified to complement the long-range plans of the governor. The governor may also extend legislative sessions and call for special sessions if the need arises.
The governor also plays a part in the judicial system as well. He or she can levy fines and penalties and grant reprieves and pardons to persons convicted of certain crimes. The governor is the only state official who is vested with these powers.
The executive branch also oversees state agencies such as the departments of Transportation, Revenue, Health and Human Resources, Administration and all divisions that fall under these agencies.
The Legislative Branch
The legislative branch is the branch of government that makes the laws. West Virginia's Legislature is bicameral legislature, meaning there are two houses of the Legislature. Our Legislature is divided into a Senate with 34 members and a House of Delegates with 100 members.
Senatorial and house districts are arranged according to population. Two senators are elected from each district, with each up for election in alternating years. Members of the Senate serve four year terms, but these terms are staggered, meaning that not all 34 State Senate seats are up every election; some are elected during the presidential election years, and some are up during the midterm elections. The number of delegates from each district is dependent upon the population from that district. All 100 members of the House of Delegates are up for election every two years.
Each of the two houses has a presiding officer: the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. Each presiding officer is elected by the majority party of that house. Also within each house, there are other officers who play key roles in the legislative process. Once the President and Speaker are elected, those leaders select members for certain roles. The Majority Leader and the Majority Whip promote the majority party's agenda, with the Majority Leader playing a more visible role. If the President or Speaker is unable to char the floor session, a substitute, known as the Speaker/President Pro Tempore, will act as the presiding officer. Along with presiding over the floor session, the President and Speaker also selects committee chairs as well as the majority party members of those committees.
The minority party also elects officers to promote their party's agenda. The Minority Leader is elected by the minority party. The Minority Leader also selects a Minority Whip as well as the minority party's membership to the committees.
According to the West Virginia Constitution, the Legislature meets annually for 60 consecutive days commencing on the second Wednesday in January. However, this changes when it is an inaugural year. The year a new governor is inaugurated, the session beings on the second Wednesday in February. It is during these 60 days that proposals or ideas can become law.
The Judicial Branch
The third branch of government is the Judicial Branch. The judicial branch interprets the laws. The judiciary is made up of courts - supreme, circuit, the magistrate (local) and municipal (city) courts.
The state judges are elected by the citizens rather than being appointed. They also run for their office as members of a political party. They duties of the judicial branch include:
The Supreme Court of Appeals is the highest court in West Virginia and supervises the lower courts. It is composed of five judges who are elected for twelve-year terms by the voters. The Supreme Court is required to meet which a year, in January and in September, and may hold special terms when necessary. The Supreme Court has the authority to determine if state laws and actions of state officials, including the governor, are constitutional. Laws and executive orders cannot be enforced if they violate the state constitution.
Most cases brought before the Supreme Court are appeals that have been tried in the circuit or magistrate courts. Once a decision has been made by the Supreme Courts, is the final decision, with the exception of conflicts between state and federal laws, which may be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
Of the five supreme court justices, one is selected to be the chief justice. the selection process is a rotation among the five justices. Each serves as the chief justice for one year. The chief justice's duties include submitting a budget to the legislature, and according to the state constitution, the Supreme Court will be appropriated for whatever amount it requests. The chief justice also assigns justices to write opinions and decisions of the court.
Commission President - In charge of the County Commission. Works with state legislators, state agencies, associate member organizations and national associations to advance the moral, financial and general welfare of West Virginia's local governments.
County Commission - Three commissioners elected every two years to serve a six-year term, except in Jefferson County where there are five commissioners. One commissioner is chosen to be the Commission President.
County Clerk - In charge of deeds and voter registration.
Assessor - Assesses the amount of taxes owed on property.
Sheriff - Provides law enforcement and tax collection.
Board of Education - Each county school district has a board of education with no fewer than five members. The members are chosen by non-partisan elections in that county. Each Board has a Superintendent who is hired by the county to serve as the executive officer of that school district. The Board meets monthly to determine the educational policies of the elementary and secondary schools and establish state rules that effect state law regarding education.
Prosecuting Attorney - A county Prosecuting Attorney is elected every four years. He or she serves in a variety of areas in both criminal and civil cases that deal with the county. Besides prosecuting all criminal cases within the county he or she also serve as legal counsel to the County Commission and other county offices.
Magistrate Courts - There are 158 magistrates in West Virginia. There are at least two magistrates in every county, and ten in the largest county, Kanawha. Magistrates use their training and sound judgment to oversee the application and enforcement of state laws, municipal laws and court procedures.
Family Courts - There are forty-five family court judges who serve twenty-seven family court circuits. Family court judges hear cases involving divorce, annulment, separate maintenance, paternity, grandparent visitation, issuing involving allocation of parental responsibility and family support proceedings.
Circuit Courts - West Virginia's fifty-five counties are divided into thirty-one circuits with seventy circuit judges. The circuit courts are West Virginia's only general jurisdiction trial courts of record.
City and towns that are incorporated have elected officials that govern the people and areas that are located within its borders. Cities and towns can have different levels of offices and number of elected officials according to the various needs. Each city or town should be looked at separately to find out exactly what levels of government are in place. Each tab gives examples of how a city and town might differ.
For information for specific Counties, follow this WV.gov link and pick your selected County.
For more interesting information about the West Virginia State Museum, check out our Education Department's Teacher's Resources page.
The West Virginia State Museum Heritage newsletter highlights various activities, artifacts, culture and history that demonstrate West Virginia's deep cultural roots.