The Senate agenda is carnage as members oppose “Mr. President!’ and is led out


On Day 59 of the 60-day session, the Senate faltered when Robert Karnes, a Randolph County Republican, protested ongoing process problems and repeatedly shouted, “Mr. President!” and demanded that bills for passage be read in full – just before he was escorted out of the chamber.

Robert Karnes

“I have been accused of disorder for requiring, as required by the West Virginia Constitution, that bills be read fully and clearly,” Karnes said from outside the chamber, leaning on a wooden railing.

“And so, instead of following the West Virginia Constitution, as we have seen, the Senate President refused to read the bills. And so I obviously put very strong emphasis on the need to do this.”

Karnes had forewarned what he was about to do. He sent a letter to Senate leaders protesting whether the content of the bills when they left committee accurately reflected the way they appear on the floor, along with sometimes last-minute notices of changes and those to be considered bills.

So in the letter dated today, Karnes said he would request that invoices be read. It’s a tactic lawmakers sometimes use in protest, slowing down the flow of the session and often causing frustration among their peers. A similar situation played out today in the House of Representatives.

Early in the morning of the Senate session, as 52 bills lined up for passage, Karnes stood up repeatedly and shouted, “Mr. President!” require bills to be read in full.

Yet Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, insisted. He declared Karnes out of order.

As the suspension began, the Senate received procedural news from the House of Representatives and decided whether to approve amendments to the bill for final passage.

Karnes cited a constitutional requirement that applies to all bills or bills drafted into the third reading.

It’s a distinction that led to Blair’s call that Karnes was out of order.

Karnes notes that he sat down and let all the bills received from the house pass before continuing. He started again as soon as bills came up for voting.

Archived Senate video shows Karnes standing up and saying as the Senate brought its first bill, SB 3109, to amend and modify appropriations for the State Board of Education for passage this morning, “I demand under the West Virginia Constitution , Article 6, Section 29, that this bill be read clearly and completely a third time.”

At that moment, Blair declared Karnes’ proposal out of control. The Senate had actually voted on this bill to suspend constitutional rules that normally require a bill to be read three times in a row.

Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, rose and cited Rule 8 of the Senate Rulebook to state that recognition authority rests with the Chairman, in other words, Blair.

After that, Blair ignored Karnes.

Karnes continued his protest against the next few bills, including HB 3542, Expiring Funds to the Department of Administration, Board of Risk and Insurance Management.

Blair said his call was correct.

“My perspective was that the Randolph senator was trying to make motions that weren’t okay, and he went ahead with them even though he was told to,” Blair said during a pause.

“He sent me a letter this morning asking that the accounts be read fully and clearly, the indented accounts. I was aware of that. We didn’t do that. We took the messages and the bills had already been read. If he doesn’t know the rules better, that’s not my problem. So he tried to put one rule on top of the other and it didn’t work.”

Mike Wolfel

Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, agreed that the Senate process was correct.

“I believe that the procedures were followed, that the Senate rules were observed and implemented,” said Woelfel. “I believe the due process took place based on Senate rules.”

The Senate took a break from all the chaos by declaring a recess. Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, a steady voice of calm, exited the chamber to speak with Karnes.

After the session resumed, longtime Sen. Donna Boley stood up and asked that Karnes be escorted about the disruption. He calmly walked out the back door.

From outside the chamber, he watched as the other senators’ voices lit up a panel. He didn’t know any more than anyone how long he would be out.

“I have no idea,” he said. “So on day 59, today, tomorrow, there’s not much room.”

Karnes added, “We’ll see.”

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