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Local delegate to reside over swearing in of Legislature

January 10, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - As the most-tenured lawmaker in the West Virginia House of Delegates, Berkeley County Republican John Overington today will preside over the swearing-in of the 100-member body and the formal election of Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, and Minority Leader Tim Armstead.

Democrats hold a commanding 72-28 majority in the House of Delegates.

"I would have never thought in 1984, I would (one day) be the most senior person," Overington said.

Overington, 60, said he plans to use the opportunity to recognize his mother, Helen Besley Overington, 99, who will make her first trip to Charleston, W.Va., for the convening of the 78th Legislature at noon.

"She didn't want to make the five-hour trip until she was sure I was serious and going to stay for a while," Overington joked. "She'll be able to see what I've been doing."

Re-elected without opposition last year, Overington returns to Charleston as a member of the House Rules Committee, which selects the legislation that has passed out of the various committees for a vote by the full House of Delegates.

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Overington also retained his minority vice-chair post on the Judiciary Committee, one of the four major 25-member committees, which collectively consider virtually all legislation. The other major committees are Education, Government Organization and Finance.

Though none of the Eastern Panhandle's three Democratic House members were tapped for a leadership post after voting against Thompson in the race for Speaker, Jefferson County Del. Bob Tabb said he believes the tri-county region still has "fair representation" on the major committees.

Like Overington, Tabb retained his seat on the Judiciary Committee, but no longer will serve on Education. In the previous legislature, Tabb was one of two delegates to serve on two major committees in place of the House Speaker and Minority leader, who do not serve on any of them.

The loss of Tabb on the Education Committee, however, was offset by the appointment of freshman delegate Jonathan Miller, R-Berkeley. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, and Locke Wysong, D-Jefferson, also remain on the panel.

"I'm going to miss him there," Duke said of Tabb.

As the Education Committee's new minority chair, Duke said Monday that he still was "cautiously optimistic" about advancing legislation designed to stymie the loss of Eastern Panhandle public school teachers, despite Thompson's appointment of Mary Poling as chair. Last year, Poling was credited for essentially killing at least one bill - Senate Bill 633 - meant to address the region's critical teacher shortages.

"I think she's honest and open," Duke said.

Tabb said he also believes Poling will be more receptive as chair of the committee.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, retained a seat on the powerful Finance Committee, the panel that reconciles the state's budget and considers virtually all legislation involving money. And the Eastern Panhandle was able to gain a second seat on the committee through the appointment of Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.

"That should be very helpful for us," said Overington, who doubted whether two delegates from the tri-county region had served on the Finance Committee at the same time.

Freshman Del. Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, essentially will take Blair's seat on the Government Organization Committee.

The organizational changes in the State Senate were less drastic because there were virtually no changes in leadership.

Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, said Tuesday he requested to be assigned to the Judiciary Committee after serving with John Unger, D-Berkeley County, on the Finance Committee for the last two years. Unger remains on the panel and retained his chairmanship of the Senate Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, who represents Morgan County and residents in six southwestern Berkeley County precincts in the 15th Senatorial District with Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, was named minority whip under new Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth.

Helmick remains Senate Finance Committee chairman.

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