In the run up to Crossover, floor sessions become lengthy as each body passes judgment on a wide range of legislation. For those of you not familiar with the term, Crossover is the point after which each body of the General Assembly can only consider legislation passed by the other body. Today is that day.
Yesterday’s calendar was over 100 pages long and included more than 250 bills and resolutions. It ranged from regulations on dog hunting, procedures for school boards to handle sexually explicit instructional materials, health insurance regulation, and three constitutional amendments, among many other things. Although I am a strong supporter of Virginia’s part-time legislature, a short 46-day session does not allow time, in my opinion, for introduced bills to seep into the public mindset and, therefore, enough time for your collective voice to be heard. Sometimes even Members of the legislature do not have time to thoroughly review and digest each piece of legislation. In any legislative body, the committee process is very important because Members, over time, become very familiar with certain subject matter. We are very reliant on the membership of those committees to get bills to the full body. They are also places where good progressive bills get defeated on a 5-2 vote, never to be examined again.
While all bills are vetted through a committee process, 22 days or 30 days in a “long session” is often not long enough for an adequate review, or, as I said, for the public to hear about it and make their views known. Many of our committee meetings start at 7:30 am or sometimes earlier, barring only the most passionate members of the public, or people from the Richmond Metro area, from personally engaging in the process and providing citizen input. Although I do not see structural changes to the General Assembly coming any time soon, I do think the way we do business should be reviewed, especially given transparency concerns.
The part-time legislature was designed with the practical needs of a largely agrarian society in mind. The legislature meets during the winters because it was the time when farmers were able to leave their fields. Is our current structure anachronistic? Should we end the every other year “short session” and change to an annual eight weeks, or should we stagger the session for short periods throughout the year? Of course, the Governor can call the General Assembly into special sessions if necessary. In fact, if the Trump Administration and Congress are able to follow through on promises to block grant massive programs like Medicaid and Medicare to the states, that would likely be enough to trigger a special session. Virginia ranks 47th in Medicaid spending on our poor, blind, aged and disabled populations. We would have to step up big.
On the bright side, there has been a considerable increase in the number of people engaged this year, which is likely due to divisive rhetoric on the national level. Committee hearings have been packed and my office has received an increased volume of email and phone calls. I am very encouraged by your enthusiastic participation in our process and I hope you continue to voice your concerns. Your input is critical as we try to do the right thing in a very partisan era.
I host town halls during session in the district in hopes of getting a better sense of your concerns and I urge you to join me this Saturday, February 11th, from 1-3 pm at the Hayfield Elementary School with Senator Scott Surovell, Senator George Barker, and Delegate Paul Krizek. I look forward to seeing you there. As always if there is any bill you have concerns about, or if you have questions about the town hall please contact me at DelMSickles@house.virginia.gov, follow me on Twitter or check out my Facebook.