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W.Va. lawmakers take up Senate vacancy bill

Jul. 15, 2010 @ 02:50 PM

CHARLESTON — West Virginians would face a tight schedule for nominating and then voting for candidates to fill the seat of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, under Thursday's special session legislation from Gov. Joe Manchin.

The measure, sent to each chamber aims to revise the state's process for handling Senate vacancies. The House of Delegates and Senate assigned each chamber's version to their judiciary committees.

Manchin's bill would retain the current trigger that requires an election whenever 30 or more months remain in a vacated Senate seat's six-year term. Byrd, 92, was history's longest-serving member of Congress when he died June 28 just days before that point.

As part of the process, the governor would still appoint someone to fill the vacancy until that vote. Manchin, a Democrat like Byrd, has promised to name his temporary choice by 5 p.m. Friday. He then plans to announce whether he'll run for the seat, and has said it's highly likely he will.

The bill would include a vacancy in already scheduled general elections, and in slated primaries when possible. Manchin wants to put Byrd's seat on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. But as West Virginia held its primary May 11, the measure would require a special primary no sooner than 60 days after the vacancy arose but at least 60 days before the general election.

That language would set a primary for Byrd's seat between Aug. 27 and Sept. 3. The bill would give candidates in parties that hold primaries — Democrats, Republicans and Mountain Party members — between three and 10 days to file.

Nine other states have primaries scheduled that later or later in the election season.

Manchin changed his proposal after lawmakers reacted to a version released Tuesday. It no longer skips primaries when just one candidate files for a party's nomination, and limits the governor's discretion for setting special election dates.

The special session agenda also includes a $5.5 million measure meant to cover the counties' special election costs. The House and Senate finance committees were to review that bill.

While Manchin had hoped lawmakers could conclude the session in a day, the Senate already plans to return Friday to vote on his latest batch of state office appointees. The state constitution requires three readings of a bill over as many days before a chamber's final vote on passage. Suspending that rule would require a four-fifths majority.

While Manchin has declined to identify those he's considering for the temporary appointment, he has said they've been mentioned in press reports. Those named include Nick Casey, who stepped down as Democratic Party chair last month after being recommended for a federal judgeship, and former two-term Gov. Gaston Caperton. Larry Puccio, Casey's successor as party chair, had also been mentioned but told a West Virginia newspaper Wednesday that he was not in the running.

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