West Virginia’s first constitution was adopted in 1863, at the time of statehood. A second constitution went into effect in 1872. Amendments to the constitution may be proposed in either house of the state legislature and must initially be approved by two-thirds of the membership of each house. To be adopted, they must then be approved by a majority of those voting on the amendments at a special election or the next general election. The legislature, with the approval of the electorate, may call conventions to make extensive revisions of the constitution. All of the revisions proposed by such conventions are subject to ratification by the people.
The state’s chief executive, the governor, is elected for a four-year term. The governor may be reelected any number of times, but may only serve two terms consecutively. The governor appoints many officials with the approval of the state senate and may veto laws or individual items of appropriations passed by the state legislature.
The governor also has the chief responsibility for drafting the annual budget for consideration by the legislature. Other elected executive officials are the secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general, and commissioner of agriculture. All are elected for four-year terms and may be elected for successive terms. There is no lieutenant governor in West Virginia. If a vacancy occurs in the governorship, it is filled by the president of the state senate, who retains the position until a gubernatorial election can be held.
West Virginia’s state legislature consists of a 34-member Senate and a 100-member House of Delegates. State senators are elected for four-year terms, and delegates are elected for two-year terms. The legislature convenes annually on the second Wednesday in January. Regular sessions are limited to 60 days.
Following each gubernatorial election, the legislature convenes briefly in January in order to organize. It then recesses until the second Wednesday in February, when the session begins. A two-thirds vote in each house is required to extend regular sessions. Special sessions may be called by three-fifths of the membership or by the governor. The legislature can override the governor’s veto by a majority vote in both houses.
The highest court of West Virginia is the Supreme Court of Appeals. The lower state courts are circuit courts, family courts, magistrate courts, and municipal courts. The Supreme Court of Appeals supervises and administers all lower state courts except municipal courts, which are administered locally. While most of the cases heard by the Supreme Court are appeals from lower courts, it can give original consideration to some cases. It also has the power of judicial review and can rule on whether actions of the executive and legislative branches of government are constitutional. Justices are elected to the Supreme Court of Appeals for 12-year terms. Circuit courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction, handling a broad array of cases including all felonies and misdemeanors. Circuit courts also hear appeals from lower courts, as well as appeals from family courts (with some exceptions). Each circuit serves from one to four counties. The number of judges in each circuit varies from one to seven depending on the size of the population served. Circuit court judges are elected for terms of eight years.
Family courts are trial courts of limited jurisdiction, handling matters such as divorce, child custody, and domestic violence. Family court judges are elected for terms of eight years. At the lowest level of the state’s court system are magistrate and municipal courts. Magistrates, elected to four-year terms, may decide civil suits involving no more than $2,000 and have no appellate function. Civil suits involving less than $100 must be tried in magistrate courts. Municipal courts can be established by any city, town, or village with its own government. The jurisdiction of municipal courts is limited to cases involving ordinance violations. For example, municipal courts often deal with minor offenses such as traffic violations. "West Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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