Bills, bills, bills and more bills for the General Assembly

Members of the Virginia General Assembly began introducing bills, or placing them “in the hopper,” on July 19, 2010, for consideration next year. The legislature convenes on Jan. 12, with two new members to be elected Jan. 11. Many of the pre-filed bills are merely bills that were not acted upon and were carried over from the previous session.

In the annual sessions, some 3,000 bills and resolutions are considered. Many of them consist of three or more pages of carefully prepared documents written in legal terms.

No one could read and understand all of them during a 60-day session, which is why lobbyists are so important. They can explain bills of special interest to elected representatives.

Of the 3,000 bills and resolutions, the average number introduced by each of the 140 members of the assembly is about 21. A new rule limits members to 15 bills this year. Newspapers tend to evaluate members of the assembly on the number of bills they submit or cosponsor and the number that are passed. This makes introducing legislation a goal of some members and a questionable activity by the public. We obviously need better means of evaluating delegates and senators. It seems that introducing fewer bills every year would save time, effort and money. Some 30 years ago, the General Assembly functioned quite well meeting every other year.

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced in late October: “We will introduce ABC privatization legislation on the first day of the 2011 General Assembly session. We will vigorously advocate for it. It is a common sense initiative.” This decision was an alternative to calling a special session of the assembly in November, which would have been costly to hardworking Virginia taxpayers.

Last year, the General Assembly dealt with many sensitive issues, made tough decisions and passed a biennial budget without raising taxes, but by borrowing millions of dollars from state retirees’ and teachers’ retirement funds. The legislature still needs to find a way to repay the Virginia Retirement System that $620,000,000. So far, there’s no bill of that nature in the hopper.

In all legislative bodies, bills are passed one year and reconsidered, overturned or rejected the next year. One year our General Assembly knew good teachers had at least a bachelor’s degree. So it followed that to have better teachers, the commonwealth should require a five-year program with a master’s degree, thus producing even better teachers. The next year, before the bill became effective, someone pointed out that many good teachers come from neighboring states and would be fully qualified, thus penalizing Virginia graduates. Also, it had not been determined whether parents or the state would pay for the fifth year of college. The act was overturned.

In England some years ago, the passage of the Dangerous Dogs Act resulted in a ban on owning four breeds of dogs: Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. Over the next 20 years, the UK saw the number of dangerous dog cases grow. The number of people who owned dogs of the restricted breeds grew rather than decreased, causing speculation that the very act of outlawing the dogs made them more in demand. The Virginia General Assembly should keep this in mind when considering gun and booze laws. Among the bills passed last year after much debate was one that allowed a person to carry a concealed weapon into bar, so long as he or she did not consume alcohol - but no smoking.

Bills introduced in the House of Delegates are given a number such as HB1, HB2 and so on. Senate bills become SB1, SB2 and on. Bills are sponsored by a delegate or senator and sometimes they have two or more sponsors. Bills of considerable interest or merit, which are debated at length, are often called by the name of the sponsor. Thus, a bill in the House might become the “Cox Bill” or the “Ingram Bill,” or the “Cox-Ingram Bill” if sponsored jointly.

Naming bills became an interest of an indolent lobbyist while seated at a dull hearing and led to the suggestion of bills by the names of delegates now listed in the directory of members of the House published by David Bailey and Associates.

There could be the Wright-Knight-Ware pajama bill.

There may be a Watt-Phillips electric screwdriver bill of interest to hardware stores.

Then we could have the Fuller-Corn-Wilt-Rust agricultural bill related to farmers’ interests.

There could be a Wright-Carr-Gear auto parts bill for mechanics.

Later a Hope-Peace bill for religious groups.

Why not a Cole-Plum bill for salads?

And a Hope-Landes airplane safety bill?

The May-Dance bill would appeal to recreation centers.

The Herring-Tata sauce bill might interest restaurateurs.

This Shuler is enough, Morrissey!

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