West Virginia Government

West Virginia has multiple levels of government in the state. This include officials at the State, County, and Local levels of administration.

State Level Government

West Virginia's government is divided into three branches - The Executive; Legislative; and Judicial . These three branches create the checks and balances and system that allows each branch to maintain an amount of power that cannot be exceeded by the other two branches

The Executive Branch

The executive branch's main duty is to execute, or carry out laws made by the Legislature or the Constitution. It also carries out the daily affairs of the state and oversees state agencies such as the Departments of Transportation, Revenue, Health and Human Resources, Administration and all divisions that fall under these agencies. To help carry out its duties, West Virginia voters elect six key figures of the executive branch:

The most well-known figure of these six state officials is the governor. The governor is elected to a four-year term and can serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. state.

The governor is given the privilege and right to address the state legislature in the annual State of the State Address. This speech provides an opportunity for the governor to announce their priorities, agenda, and proposed budget–expected state expenditure–to the Legislature.

Veto privilege is also given to the governor. A veto allows the governor to express disapproval and rejection of a legislative decision or proposal. He or she may choose to use the veto if a piece of legislature does not conform to the administration’s philosophy and cannot be modified to complement the governor’s long-range plans. Additionally, the governor may extend legislative sessions and call for special sessions if necessary.

The governor 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 vested with these powers.

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.

Both the Senate and House districts are arranged according to population. Additionally, both the Senate and the House have a presiding officer elected by the majority party as well as other officers that play key roles in the legislative process. The presiding officer of each house then selects members for roles like Majority Leader and Majority Whip as well as committee chairs and majority party members for those committees. The Majority Leader and Majority Whip promote the majority party’s agenda with the Majority Leader playing a more visible role. Each presiding officer also selects the President/Speaker Pro Tempore. In the event that the President or Speaker is unable to chair the floor session, the President/Speaker Pro Tempore will act as the substitute presiding officer.

 The West Virginia State Senate The West Virginia House of Delegates 

Presiding Officer: President of the Senate

Two senators represent each district. State senators in West Virginia are elected in alternating years and serve four-year terms. Some senators are elected during the presidential election years while others are elected during midterm elections. This creates staggered terms and prevents all 34 state senator seats from being up for election at the same time. 

Presiding Officer: Speaker of the House

There are 100 members of the West Virginia House of Delegates and each delegate serves a two-year term. Unlike the state Senate, all 100 members are up for election at the same time at the end of their two-year term. Additionally, the number of delegates from each district depends on the population in that district. 

The minority party also elects officers to promote their party's agenda. The Minority Leader is elected by the minority party. The Minority Leader selects the 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, in an inaugural year–the year a new governor is inaugurated–the legislative session begins on the second Wednesday in February. During these 60 days that proposals, or ideas, can become law.

The Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branchinterprets the laws and is comprised of  supreme, circuit,  magistrate (local), and municipal (city) courts. Duties of the judicial branch include:

The state judges are elected by the citizens rather than being appointed. They also run for their office as members of a political party. The duties of the judicial branch include:

Rather than being appointed, West Virginia's state judges run for office as a member of a political party and are elected by the citizens.

The Supreme Court of Appeals is the highest court in West Virginia and it supervises the lower courts. It is composed of five judges who are elected for twelve-year terms by voters. One of the five West Virginia Supreme Court justices is selected to be the chief justice. The selection process is a rotation among the five justices. Each one serves as the chief justice for one year. One of the chief justice's duties includes submitting a budget to the legislature. 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.

Most cases brought before the Supreme Court are appeals that have already been tried in the circuit or magistrate courts. Once a decision is made by the Supreme Court, it is the final decision, with the exception of conflicts between state and federal laws, which may be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is required to meet twice a year–in January and in September– but 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.

Reference: West Virginia Legislature: Office of Reference & Information

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County Level Government

Government officials also exist at the county-level. In West Virginia, some of the prominent roles include legislative officers like Commission President and judicial officers such as a Magistrate.

County Level Legislative Offices & Responsibilities

County Commission: In West Virginia, county commissions administer local government services for each county. County commissions are responsible for overseeing local taxes, budget, and judicial services as well as the election process. County commissions also support local community services like health departments, fire and ambulance services, public libraries, parks and recreation, and many others as well as lobbying for state funding to support local programs. Each county commission is made up of 3 county commissioners who are elected to serve a six-year term. However, in Jefferson County, there are 5 county commissioners. County commissioner terms are staggered, so there is an election for a county commissioner every two years. Each county commission chooses one commissioner to serve as the Commission President.

Commission President: The Commission President is in charge of the County Commission and 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 Clerk: The County Clerk is in charge of deeds and voter registration.

Assessor: The Assessor for each county is responsible for estimating the amount of taxes owed on properties in the county.

Sherrif: The Sherriff in each county provides law enforcement in the county. Sherriffs help to keep the peace by ensuring that all local, state, and federal laws are followed. County Sherriffs are also involved in county tax collection.

Board of Education: The Board of Education in each county supervises and controls the county school district. It is made up of 5 members who are chosen through non-partisan elections in each county. Each County Board of Education also elects its own Board President who serves a two-year term..

County-Level Judicial Offices & Responsibilities

Prosecuting Attorney: The county Prosecuting Attorney serves in a variety of both criminal and civil cases involving the county. They also serve as legal counsel to the County Commission and other county offices. Prosecuting Attorneys at the county level are elected every four years.

Magistrate Courts: Magistrates use their training and sound judgment to oversee the application and enforcement of both state and municipal laws and court procedures. There are 158 magistrates in West Virginia and at least 2 in every county. The largest county in the state, Kanawha County, has 10 magistrates. .

Family Courts: Family court judges hear cases involving divorce, annulment, separate maintenance, and paternity. They also hear cases regarding grandparent visitation, issues involving allocation of parental responsibility, and family support proceedings. There are 45 Family Court judges who serve 27 family court circuits.

Circuit Courts: Circuit courts are West Virginia’s only general jurisdiction trial courts of record. West Virginia's fifty-five counties are divided into thirty-one circuits with seventy circuit judges..

Reference: West Virginia Legislature: Office of Reference & Information

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Local Level Government

Incorporated cities and towns have elected officials that govern the people and areas located within their borders. Cities and towns can have different levels of offices and numbers of elected officials according to their various needs. Each city or town should be looked at separately to find out exactly what local government bodies are in place. To learn more about each local government, start by clicking on WV.gov link and pick your selected county. Once you've made your way to the county's website, you'll be able to find a tab or link to specific websites for each incorporated city or town. 

Reference: West Virginia Legislature: Office of Reference & Information

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