Now that I’m back from Richmond, I’ve been on the local legislative wrap-up circuit, speaking to civic groups, Boy Scout troops, and chambers of commerce about the recently concluded 45-day legislative session. Typically it’s a chance to recount the bills you passed, the bills that failed, and talk about the budget numbers.
There is a real sense of urgency in these get togethers. Falls Churchers and Northern Virginians are ready to get involved and take positive action.
So I’ve been trying something a little different. Given the increased level of energy and interest in government and politics that we’ve seen since the surprising result of the 2016 election, I’ve found audiences are anxious to dig a little a deeper. They are willing to get in the weeds with me on how things really work, what really happens in the legislature.
Most of us learned how a bill becomes a law at some point during elementary school. Or if you weren’t paying attention in class, you learned it from a cute cartoon character named Bill on Saturday morning. It goes a bit like this.
A constituent calls a legislator with a problem they’d like solved. The legislator thinks of a way to solve the problem and writes a bill.
The bill goes to a committee, where folks debate it. Is this a problem that needs to be solved? Is this the right solution? Is there a better way to solve this problem? If a majority of the members of the committee agree this bill solves the problem well, it is reported.
After a bill is reported, it goes to the floor of the house where it was introduced and everyone votes. If it gets enough votes, it goes to the other house, where the process starts all over again. If it makes it through both houses, it’s signed by the Executive (the Governor) and becomes law.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work, but in the Virginia House of Delegates, where Republican’s outnumber democrats almost exactly 2-1 (66-34) it sometimes goes more like this:
Locality reaches out to delegate with a good idea, Democratic Delegate works to get the language right with the department of legislative services and introduces bill. Representatives from the industry affected by the bill come to meet with the legislator, explain that this bill might save the locality money, but will cost them money. At subcommittee, the delegate, the locality, and subject matter experts all testify in favor of the bill. Industry representatives, who have donated thousands to reelection bids of subcommittee members, briefly express opposition. Chairman asks for a motion on the bill…silence. Bill fails to report (dies) without a vote (HB 2170).
Or like this:
Military attorney reaches out to Democratic Delegate, who happens to be a veteran, and asks Virginia to join several other states in expanding the protections of the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act to military spouses and other dependents. This would add to consumer protections available to military members who receive orders requiring them to move and terminate contracts early (HB 2147).
Subcommittee chairman says to Democratic Delegate, your bill is sort of like another bill a Republican Delegate has introduced, but better. We are going to take the things that make your bill better, add them to the Republican bill (HB 1537) and kill yours.
Or sometimes, if you’ve made a particularly partisan speech on the floor, they simply kill your bill later that afternoon, before you’ve had a chance to explain it (HB 2430). Or, if you are in a competitive election district, they may kill all your bills, and then campaign against you for failing to pass any legislation.
That’s just how things go sometimes when you’re in the minority party, when you speak up a lot on the floor. When you make it your job to call out their nonsense when they keep pushing bills to license discrimination against same sex couples (HB 2025), or worry about what bathrooms people use (HB 1612), or have people bring their guns into schools (HB 1392), courthouses (SB 904), and even emergency shelters (HB 2077).
Let me know if you think I’m taking the right approach. I’d love to hear from you about how I’m doing. Visit my website (marcussimon.com), my Facebook page or come to one of the many community events I’ll be attending over the next several months. I’ve never been shy about interacting with my constituents. Let’s talk soon.
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]