CHARLESTON, W.Va. - There is only one place in West Virginia where a bill can become a law. That's the governor's desk.
Turning an idea into a bill, however, occurs just down the hall in the Legislative Services Division. And, rather than a swipe from the chief executive's pen, drafting bills requires a whole team of attorneys and proofreaders.
Legislative Services Director John Homburg oversees bill drafting.
Legislation arrives in his office in various stages of development. Lawmakers sometimes show up with laws other states have passed and ask Homburg's staff to tailor the bill to West Virginia code.
He said those are the most difficult to write.
Because other states' laws are different, their bills are written in different formats and the names of their government agencies often do not match those in West Virginia.
Sometimes, lawmakers come to the office with fully formed legislation drafted by lobbyists. Homburg and his staff still must go through the legislation, however, to make sure it is in the proper format, correctly aligns with West Virginia law and does not include any spelling, grammar or punctuation errors.
"We're kind of the clearinghouse, to make sure everything's in the proper form," he said.
Other times, bills arrive at Legislative Services as little more than a thought bouncing around in a lawmaker's head.
It's up to Homburg's staff of attorneys to turn those abstruse ideas into full-fledged pieces of legislation.
"I tell people, the more information you give us, the more we'll be able to give you what you want," Homburg said.
Bill drafters must figure out where the proposed law fits into West Virginia code, and which statutes should be changed to make the bill effective.
If a lawmaker's idea does not fit into any existing section of state code, drafters must pen an entirely new article for the law books.
While search engines allow drafters to search for keywords and specific sections of code, Homburg said it is important for the attorneys on his staff to have an intimate knowledge of state law.
"We all become a generalist as far as the law goes," he said. "Having a general knowledge is helpful. It saves you time, that's for sure."
Once the bill is drafted, its next stop is the Legislative Services' typing department, where the division's lone typist ensures bills are in the proper order and have been correctly formatted.
From typing, the bill heads to Homburg's all-female team of proofreaders.