Ken Plum: The other bills
By the time it adjourns in early March the General Assembly will have considered more than 2,500 bills and resolutions. About half will have passed. News sources will have focused on a dozen high priority issues that include restrictions on abortions, expanding gun rights, limiting access to voting, telling the schools what they must do, and budgeting for the next two years. So what are all the other bills?
Many bills before the legislature can be termed “housekeeping” measures. These bills repeal obsolete sections of the Code, make corrections to Code references and other details in laws that were previously passed, and update existing laws. These bills could be termed technical corrections in that they do not establish new policy but rather make changes that are needed in laws that are already on the books. These bills are handled fairly routinely and quickly, but they do constitute part of the workload of the House and Senate. A consent calendar in both houses allows these measures to be voted on in a block.
Another large group of bills could be classified as “local” bills in that they pertain to one or more localities. Virginia has the “Dillon Rule,” meaning that local governments have only those powers granted to them by the state legislature. As a result, each local government has a charter of powers that can be amended as conditions in the localities change. For example, many local governments have had authority in the past to hold their elections in May. Faced with limited participation in their elections, those localities have been coming to the legislature to change the date to November. Each change requires a separate bill. At the same time, many powers are denied to local governments, such as limitations on the kind of taxation, land use, etc. I believe more powers should be delegated to local governments, but there is a strong reluctance on the part of many incumbents to give up any of their powers.
“Agency” bills refer to specific agencies, departments, or other units of state government and their powers. Some of the bills seem like micromanagement as the legislature puts controls on the executive by the powers and authorities granted to the executive branch. Memorial resolutions honor citizens of note who have passed away, and commending resolutions recognize individuals and organizations for their noteworthy contributions to others. Then there are the bills that affect individuals and make the news. With the shift in power in Richmond, there has been a sharp increase in many social agenda bills that you have been reading about and that I have been voting against.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.