Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

As one of the leaders of the Senate, I have been in Richmond this week with the newly-elected Senators while they attend New Member Orientation.

The week began with words of welcome from the Democratic and Republican leadership of the Senate. We gave them some good advice, e.g., don’t introduce too many bills, and gave a brief introduction to the parliamentary language that is used on the floor of the Senate. Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling added his top four tips: know the rules; learn the process; don’t be too partisan; take a low key approach the first year;

The orientation has been interesting and thorough, and a good refresher course for me.

The new Senators-elect had a tour of the Capitol that certainly inspired us all with the history that we are now a part of. The newly-renovated Capitol is both beautiful and functional. Later there was a tour of the General Assembly Building (not quite as inspiring!).

The briefings have been very thorough and have covered a wide range of topics.

Some have dealt with fiscal issues for the members: benefits, payroll; legislative assistant payroll; office expenses, and so forth. One session covered stationery, telephones and offices in the General Assembly Building in Richmond. (As members retire or are defeated, their offices become available to others; the assignment of offices is by seniority so more junior members and these newly-elected Senators have to wait until the Clerk of the Senate hears from more senior members about their choices. There is great anticipation among all the members as they consider their possible options.) The Capitol Police gave the necessary security briefing and computer training was offered.

Other briefings dealt with the specific questions that legislators have. The Division of Legislative Services explained how to get a bill drafted (and reminded them once again that you don’t have to introduce every bill you’ve ever thought of). The Director of the Senate Finance Committee told them how to file budget amendments. There was an excellent briefing on the Freedom of Information Act as it affects a legislator and a discussion of the Senate’s policy on harassment (never adopted by the House of Delegates)..

The orientation was not all about the nitty-gritty information that members need to know.

Governor Kaine invited the newly-elected Senators for breakfast at the Governor’s Mansion.

Dinner the first night began with a reception in the Capitol Rotunda followed by dinner in the Old Senate Chamber (used from 1788 to 1905). The speaker for dinner the second night was Suzette Denslow, Legislative Director and Deputy Policy Director in the Office of the Governor.

Your incoming Senators will be well-prepared to assume their duties in January.