CHARLESTON -- West Virginia would hold both its special primary and gubernatorial elections earlier under a bill passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Monday.
The legislation, which now goes to the House Finance Committee, calls for a May 14 primary and a Sept. 13 election for governor.
Members of the judiciary committee passed the bill on a voice vote.
Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin previously issued a proclamation on Jan. 21 calling for a special gubernatorial election on Oct. 4.
Tomblin's proclamation was in line with a ruling issued by the state Supreme Court on Jan. 18 that West Virginians will elect a new governor this year.
Tomblin, who took over for now-U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who resigned with more than a year left in his term, had argued that an election wasn't needed until 2012. However, now, according to the Supreme Court ruling, a governor must be elected by Nov. 15.
House Bill 2853 also is in line with Tomblin's wish -- and that of most other state leaders -- that a primary be held instead of a nominating convention.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of holding a primary on West Virginia Day, June 20. However, county clerks were already asking to hold it earlier, in May.
Now, the House bill calls for Tomblin to issue a second proclamation calling for just that, and a September gubernatorial election date.
The House, citing the need for expediency, is looking to quickly advance the bill.
House Speaker Rick Thompson, in a statement late Monday, said House members on Tuesday will consider suspending the constitutional rule requiring that a bill be read on three separate days.
If that vote carries, the full House will vote on it Tuesday, he said.
"While we seldom suspend that rule for legislation, in this instance I think members have had time to consider all factors related to this particular bill and will feel comfortable voting on it tomorrow," Thompson, D-Wayne, said Monday.
"We all would like to get this legislation to the Senate as soon as possible and continue to move forward with the other important work of the House."
He continued, "In offering the earlier dates for the election, we have taken to heart the Supreme Court's order that the election take place 'as soon as practicable,' as opposed to as late as possible."
House members, Thompson said, took into consideration the benefits of holding a nominating convention, including its savings to taxpayers.
According to the Secretary of State's Office, if nominations were done by the convention process, the three major parties -- Democratic, Republican and Mountain -- each would bear the cost of their own conventions. Counties would pay for the gubernatorial election.
That, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant has said, could cost $3 million to $4 million.
If a primary were held instead of a convention, the cost to counties could increase by another $3 million to $4 million, Tennant has said.
Despite the cost, Thompson said delegates agreed that a speedy primary and general election were "most appropriate."
House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said of the decision to bump up the time frame, "We gave members ample opportunity to vet all the questions and proposals related to this complicated issue and to relay their wishes to the leadership -- this is how the process was designed to work, and I am proud of the outcome."
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said, "I am very pleased that the House of Delegates appears to have reached an agreement to give the people of West Virginia the right to fully participate in the election of our next Governor.
"Republican members of the House have maintained throughout this debate that the people of West Virginia deserve the right to vote both in a primary and general election. We look forward to passing legislation to ensure an open, fair and efficient process that allows the people to choose their Governor."
Tomblin issued his own statement, commending the judiciary committee's vote in support of holding the primary, but was mum on how he felt about the change in dates.
"I want to commend the members of the House of Delegates for the action they have taken to ensure that our citizens have the ability to select their next nominee for Governor. It was the right thing to do. We need a primary," he said.
"After the House passes the bill, I certainly hope the Senate and the House work together quickly to choose a primary date and a new election date, so that our citizens can exercise their democratic right and vote for their Governor. What matters most is providing the people with the opportunity to go to the polls and vote."
Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, also applauded the House bill and its call for a primary.
"I am glad that delegates have seen the benefit of allowing all West Virginians, including our service men and women and senior citizens, to vote on their party's nominee for Governor," Roberts said in a statement.
"It's refreshing to see that some legislators are not continuing their fight for a convention. West Virginians cherish freedom and that means the right to vote. We applaud the House leadership for moving forward to resolve this issue for West Virginians."