The first full week of the General Assembly is now under our belts. A few significant bills have reached the floor, but most are awaiting action in committee. The committees are running full bore. Visitors from around the Commonwealth fill the halls trying to meet their legislators and talk about issues of concern to them, but often legislators are running from commitment to commitment. The constitutional limit on the session does not allow for breaks.
Under Virginia’s Constitution, the General Assembly meets for 60 days in even-numbered years and 30 days in odd years. The sessions can be extended by a 2/3 vote of the General Assembly; traditionally the short session is extended to 46 days. The daily count includes weekends, holidays, snow days and every day until we adjourn. In Virginia, odd years are election years, which can drive the introduction of more bills. While we do not typically work on weekends, we do not stop for holidays or bad weather. This can present real challenges during these winter months. Some legislators may have difficulty getting back to Richmond from their districts, or even getting to the Capitol from within the city limits.
The legislature could address this in a number of ways. We could work on weekends, which is not unprecedented. Back in the ’90s, House of Delegates committees met frequently on weekends. Occasionally we held floor sessions on Sundays. This approach would cause some people discomfort but would not require constitutional change, unlike other alternatives. We could simply write into the Constitution that the weekends do not count, which would extend the session out a few weeks. Or we could just extend the session to 60 days every year. Every odd year, we try to cram 60 days’ worth of work into 46 days.
This past week saw the Senate pass legislation on a 26-14 vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The bill now moves to the House of Delegates for consideration. All along, I felt this bill would pass the Senate if it came to floor. The real test will be in the House of Delegates. The primary effort will be to get it out of committee, as I expect it has the support of a majority of delegates. [Read more…]