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Legislature working despite water contamination

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's Legislature met Friday, despite a water emergency that has affected thousands of people in the south-central portion of the state, prompting a state of emergency.

House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said he met last night with staff to determine how to proceed with business, even though many delegates stay in hotels or apartments in Charleston during the 60-day session and are affected by the contamination.

"People's health and safety is paramount over anything," Miley said. "We wanted to make sure those people staying in hotels and who rely on restaurants to eat and drink were able to go home and be safe and others who are from the area can go home and be safe and take care of what they need to take care of."

Miley noted today is the third day of the legislative session, so there wasn't much business to conduct. But, he did say if the problem persists and the ban stays in place, it could slow legislative business down the road.

"If this were to happen on a Wednesday on the 30th day, it would slow things down," he said. "But because we're on the third day of the legislative session and bills are just now getting introduced and committees are up and meeting, it hasn't affected much yet. Depending on how long it continues, it could affect work of the House and Senate because we won't be able to meet and consider legislation."

Of the 100 delegates, the majority commute to the area and stay for the session. In the Senate, about eight commute and the rest -- about 26 -- stay in hotels or apartments in or around Charleston.

The Legislature does not have specific protocol that governs how and when the body meets during a state of emergency.

"Our rules require if there are two people here we can convene, notice a lack of a quorum and adjourn to a day certain," said Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. "If we don't meet, we're required to meet on the next business day, which would have been Saturday, then Sunday so we would have had to keep coming in. this way, we're able to meet today and adjourn to a day certain, which is Monday."

Kessler said 18 senators are required for a quorum. Including Kessler, 22 senators attended the floor session, while 30 delegates showed up for the House session.

Miley said no protocol exists because these types of events are unprecedented and unanticipated.

"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," Miley said. "You address it on a case-by-case basis."

However, the water may not be safe to use for some time.

Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water, the utility affected, said in a Friday news conference there is no timeline to lift the ban. In the meantime, Miley said he is telling delegates to watch the news and stay informed. Going forward with business will be dictated by concerns for public health.

"A lot of this we're learning as the public is learning," Miley said. "We're keeping the delegates updated as far as the work of the house as we're updated as well. Going forward will be driven and dictated by the circumstances and health and safety of the public and the members who come down here and serve."


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