Every session of the General Assembly I am reminded of how much the functioning of the legislature is like a roller coaster ride. Every ride on a roller coaster regardless of how big it may be starts off very slowly. The steep climb at the beginning is followed by a sudden acceleration as the bottom seems to drop out when the coaster descends into the first drop. While your stomach is still in your throat you go through sharp turns followed by other drops that leave most of us with white knuckles holding on for dear life. There is a great sense of relief when it is all over.
A session of the General Assembly is kind of like that. The first couple of weeks are busy with opening preliminaries, bill drafting, and this year settling into temporary offices. As bills get introduced and assigned to committees that start to meet you get that sense that the bottom is about to drop out. Days get longer and busier as the need to be in more than one place at a time becomes the rule rather than the exception, and the schedule for each day gets longer.
The final product of the session will not be known until the scheduled end of the session on March 10. In the meantime, I will update you on actions taken on the nearly 2,500 bills and resolutions that are moving down the track. Be aware that there are likely to be changes at the next sharp turn or sudden drop.
Hopes that the session would be less partisan with a 21 to 19 split in the Senate and a 51 to 49 division in the House with Republicans controlling both houses were dashed early as mostly Republican-sponsored bills were approved along partisan lines. All gun safety bills were quickly defeated including my bill for universal background checks. A bill to repeal the current prohibition on guns in churches was passed. Ironically its proponents testified that it would make churches safer! Bills intended to keep the environment cleaner were mostly defeated while some technical and administrative bills related to the environment were passed.
Under the Dillon Rule localities have only the powers granted to them in their charters or in general law. Many bills have been passed as usual to grant specific authority to a given locality; these are referred to as “local bills.” Many “housekeeping” measures add to the session agenda as they make technical corrections to existing law. An increasing number of animal-related bills are under consideration as are bills related to hunting and fishing. Major legislation to regulate electric utility rates and expand the use of renewables is still being negotiated. Certificate of Public Need (COPN) for hospitals is likewise being negotiated among stakeholders.
The really big bill, the biennial budget, will be worked out among conference committee members and usually is one of the last bills to pass. The mystery of whether it will include an expansion of Medicaid has yet to be resolved. Many twists and turns are still ahead before the Assembly comes to its final stop for the year. Continue your advocacy on issues of concern to you. Check on the progress of bills of interest to you at lis.virginia.gov.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.