While the 2015 session of the Virginia General Assembly doesn’t start until mid-January, the months of November and December are busy times for legislators. A key item on most legislative “To Do” lists is producing legislation to be introduced during the next session. The bills I am referring to, here, propose changes to Virginia statutes that are not primarily budget-related but which are intended to shape future governance within the Commonwealth.
The main responsibility of the General Assembly during each two year session is to fund the existing functions of government: raising revenue, borrowing money, adopting and amending spending budgets. This financing function is accomplished through legislation, i.e. Budget Bills passed by Senate and the House of Delegates, combined through negotiations and, eventually, signed by the Governor. While budget legislation often includes provisions that alter future government operations, such as Medicaid service delivery, most changes to government functions are accomplished through the non-budget related legislative process. Bills are drafted and passed which change Virginia statutes in ways that change what state and local governments do and how they work. The legislative process is especially important in Virginia because, as a Dillon Rule state, the Virginia General Assembly (with the concurrence of the Governor) has the power to direct specific local government functions –policing, schools, storm sewers, etc. – in ways that would seem highly intrusive in other parts of the country.
If you are reading this column, I assume that you are interested in Virginia government and have opinions as to what we legislators should or should not be doing. If so, a few hours of research over the next 30 days can be very rewarding. There are a number of good online information sources that you can use to find out what your favorite legislators are up to. Advance notice of actions you agree or disagree with may enable you to prioritize and deploy your political advocacy resources more effectively.
The General Assembly Legislative Information System – LIS (virginiageneralassembly.gov) – is a great repository of detailed information, but it is probably not the place to start for general browsing. I find that sites maintained by the Virginia Public Access Project (vpap.org/lawmaking) and Richmond Sunlight, (richmondsunlight.com) are more accessible and easier to use. Start by accessing these sites to look up your Delegate and Senator to see what bills they have filed for 2015. You can also query these sites by topic area and obtain information on all bills submitted. You can then followup by looking for the proposed legislation in each of the other sites. The information in these sites is not always fully up to date, because they contain historical information and because the current process is dynamic and can change every day.
Just to get you started, here are a couple of bills that have been filed by current legislators: 1) David Ramadan (R-87th South Riding) has submitted a bill (HB 1356) to deny in-state Virginia tuition to undocumented residents who have qualified under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I’m troubled that an individual who is an immigrant himself and who was a member of the Board of Visitors of George Mason (2010-12) should feel so compelled to flaunt right wing bona fides. 2) Scott Lingamfelter (R-31st Prince William) has submitted a bill to require run-off elections when leading candidates receive less than 50 percent of the vote in an election. This step would be expensive and would increase the number of “low turnout” elections that put candidates into office. 3) Christopher Head (R-17th Roanoke) has proposed a constitutional amendment that would permit the General Assembly “to suspend or nullify any or all portions of any administrative rule or regulation….” When the GA is not in session, this power would be exercised by a Committee of legislators. This sounds like the first step towards a parliamentary system for the Commonwealth.
There you have it and there’s plenty more. Please do your best to become informed and to share your thoughts with your friends, colleagues and legislators. My best wishes to all for the holiday season.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]