Ken Plum: The People’s Business
The General Assembly has shifted into high gear to get through its agenda of thousands of bills in sixty days. The old saying that you cannot be in two places at one time is disproven every day as the 140 members of the House and Senate scurry among subcommittees and standing committees on which they serve and the subcommittees and committees before which they have to present their bills. By strategically placing an assistant or intern in one meeting while the member moves quickly among several meetings, it may even appear that a member is in more than even two places at one time. The legislature is not a place for lengthy contemplation but rather is a place for action. After all, we ran on a platform of what we promised we were going to do, and the legislative session is the time of action to deliver on our promises.
With such a “meat grinder” approach can we trust the outcome of a legislative session? Consider that in order for a bill to become a law it must meet the approval of a subcommittee and full committee, passage twice in the full house on two different days, the same process in the other house of the legislature, and the signature of the governor. All that time there are hundreds of advocates, constituents, lobbyists and others looking over your shoulder and providing comments on what you are doing. Bills get intense scrutiny before they are passed. It is easier to describe how a bill does not make it than it is to tell how a bill becomes a law. Fewer than half the bills introduced become law.
Election outcomes do matter for to change the outcome of debate on important issues it may be easier to change the people in the legislature through the ballot box than it is to change the minds of incumbent legislators. A case in point is ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment that was debated for decades but approved within a week in a General Assembly made up of new members supporting the rights of women. Those same new members, joining the progressives who were already there, have even now approved sweeping new common-sense gun safety laws such as my universal background check bill that had been defeated for two decades by previous members of a subcommittee of the House. Laws that put barriers in the way of women in making choices concerning their own reproductive health are being repealed. Laws that disproportionally affected people of color are being repealed. The criminal justice system is undergoing a major shift to make it work more fairly for all people. Challenges to the environment are being met with meaningful legislation.
It is impossible to list in a short column the thousands of bills before the legislature. You can however review the full list with descriptions and status at lis.virginia.gov and for the first time this year you can see livestreaming of most full and subcommittee meetings at House Chamber Stream and Senate Chamber Stream. And you can visit the Capitol in Richmond; all meetings are open to the public. Some say the process is like making sausage. The important thing is it is doing the people’s business.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.