By Tim Storey
One of the things I’ve always liked about the legislative environment is the dichotomy between excessive planning and the inevitable unexpected events that come out of nowhere to derail the best planned schedules.
West Virginia’s legislative leaders did not think that the first couple of weeks of session would be upended by a declared state of emergency in the capital city Charleston because of a chemical spill that contaminated the water supply for over 300,000 people including the Capitol.
West Virginia House Speaker Tim Miley
Despite the fact that anyone in the affected area, including many legislators who stay in hotels during session, could not drink the water or use it to bathe or wash their hands, both the House and Senate gaveled into session last Friday.
Because it is so early in the session, there was not a lot of business and most other meetings were cancelled, including a scheduled training for legislative committee chairs that NCSL was going to conduct. Legislative leaders were exploring various options for how to continue with legislative business as the crisis dragged on.
House Speaker Tim Miley summed it up best when he told the Charleston Daily Mail: “It doesn't happen very often so there is not protocol because you don't anticipate it happening, you don't anticipate what it is that might happen to prevent you from conducting the work of the people. You address it on a case-by-case basis."
That’s what leaders do every year in legislative chambers all over the nation—they figure it out. Whether it’s a weather emergency, the unexpected death of a key figure in state government or something as unpredictable as a chemical spill, they find ways to do the work of the people.
According to reports today, such as this one in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, the legislature will soon be back on track. The water contamination is being addressed, and hotels and restaurants are expected to re-open soon.
I flew into Charleston last Thursday evening and, thanks to some wonderful staff assistance by the West Virginia House staff, I was able to be on the floor for the “historic” session on Friday morning. I was one of the hundreds of thousands of people who were not able to bathe that morning, many of whom made their way to the Capitol to do the people’s business. We were literally the unwashed masses.
Tim Storey coordinates legislative training for NCSL.