CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Once all the committee meetings, bill readings, amendments, last-minute deals and floor votes are complete, the Legislature goes home.
But the lawmaking process is far from over. When the Capitol halls clear out, the process of turning bills into laws all comes down to ink, paper, scissors and glue.
Reporters often say a piece of legislation that passes both the House of Delegates and state Senate is "on its way to the governor's desk." In a sense, that's true. But the phrase overlooks the huge amount of work left for both chambers' clerks and Governor's Office staff.
"This is when the heavy lifting really begins," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler-Goodwin said last week. "We continue to burn the midnight oil long after the Legislature leaves.
"It's much more complicated than 'Yay! It passed.' "
The work begins in the House and Senate clerks' offices.
For a bill to pass, both chambers must approve identical versions of the legislation. If one body passes even a slightly amended version of a bill, the other body must agree to those changes or work out a compromise in a "conference committee," comprised of members from each house.
Unless the governor extends the session, lawmakers' jobs end immediately when the clock strikes midnight on the 60th day of the regular legislative session. House and Senate clerks still can make changes to the bills once the session ends, however.
The clerk's amendments cannot change the bills' original intent. They cannot change policy. But clerks are allowed to proofread the legislation and fix any typographical errors.
"Every now and again you'll get a clerical error. 'Or' is left out, or 'and,' " said assistant Senate clerk Lee Cassis.
House Clerk Greg Gray said one bill that recently landed on his desk accidentally substituted the word "employed" for "deployed." He fixed the mistake and had the bill reprinted.
"These are non-substantive issues that I can change, because it's clear it was a typographical error," he said.
With proofreading completed, the bills must then be "enrolled."
Clerks print up four copies of each passed bill: one for each chamber, the governor and the Secretary of State. Each copy must be signed by the speaker of the House, the Senate president, the House and Senate clerks and a member of each chamber's enrollment committee.
That can prove difficult.
The Legislature passed 216 pieces of legislation this year, which means the clerks and their staffs must keep track of 864 copies of those bills and have each one signed.
"It's tough once they get out of town, especially with our president being up north," Cassis said.
Senate President Jeff Kessler lives in Glen Dale, in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle.
"We have to make a couple trips out of town to get his signature," Cassis said.
Once bills are enrolled, their next stop is the Governor's Office.
The House and Senate clerks deliver all four copies of each bill to Tomblin, along with a scrapbook of sorts.
Following each session, the clerks cut and paste the titles of each passed bill into a blank hardback book. Bill titles describe what each piece of legislation is intended to do, along with the bills' sponsors and the sections of state code that will be altered.
Gray's office handles titles for bills that originated in the House. Senate Clerk Joe Minard's office cuts and pastes the bills born in the Senate.
There's no fancy way to do this. It comes down to a steady pair of scissors and a glue stick, just like the ones second-graders use for classroom art projects.
Cassis said he burned through five glue sticks this year, and started on a sixth.
Most bill titles fit neatly in the book's pages. Others, however, require a little maneuvering.
The title for Senate Bill 371, the governor's prison overcrowding legislation, is about three feet long while the title for Senate Bill 359, Tomblin's education reform bill, is nearly twice that length.