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Virginia State Government 101: ‘Taught’ by the Mom Who Didn’t Know Her Delegate Three Weeks Ago

When I started to dig into Virginia state government a few weeks ago, I became painfully aware of how much I didn’t know about the overall organization of it, much less the actual legislative process or bills that were up for discussion.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve found a renewed interest in Virginia state government, mainly because I want to feel confident that I’m electing leaders who are more or less in line with my opinions on the topics that are important to me.

So, I’m dragging you along for a throwback to Virginia state government class, minus the tests and book reports. My hope is that by sharing my journey, I might find a friend or two that wants to lock arms to make sure our mom voices, no matter how different, are heard.  

Virginia state government

Class materials: I’ve found several sites to be incredibly helpful in my quest to better understand state government and the legislative process. Feel free to poke around these when you get a free moment.

The Virginia General Assembly

Ballotpedia

Who’s My Legislator?

So, here are the Cliff Notes on Virginia state government through the eyes of a mom who doesn’t dress her children up for theme days, serves breakfast for dinner at least once a week, and is ready to add one more ‘To Do’ to her list if it means sleeping better at night. 

Lesson 1: How is the General Assembly organized?

‘Definition, please’, asks the spelling bee contestant. The General Assembly is Virginia’s legislative body, comprised of elected representatives that serve in a part-time capacity, even though their responsibilities last throughout the year. #nothanks

The Senate and the House of Delegates (shout out to the former House of Burgesses!) are the two bodies that make up the General Assembly. Currently, the Senate is composed of 40 elected members who each serve 4-year terms. They are led by the Lieutenant Governor, who serves as the President of the Senate.

The other governing body, the House of Delegates, is composed of 100 elected officials who serve 2-year terms and are led by the Speaker of the House, who is elected as speaker by the House membership.

But, wait. What about the Governor and the Attorney General? Along with the Lieutenant Governor, these are the only statewide elected officials.

Lesson 2: What do my representatives do?

The Governor is ‘kind of a big deal’. He or she (dream big, ladies!) heads up the Executive branch, plays a big role in legislation and, apparently, is responsible for a lot of other things.

What all does the governor do?

The Attorney General, according to Ballotpediaprovides legal advice and representation to the governor and executive agencies, state boards and commissions and institutions of higher education.’ Clearly, I had no idea how to trim that one down.

Our Senators and Delegates are our representatives, namely because we live in their respective legislative districts, and they create and enact public policy (aka laws) that, ideally, are in our best interest. They also elect the judges that serve the Commonwealth and, throughout the year, assist their constituents (us again!) with various public services at the local, state, and federal levels of government.

Lesson 3: When do they work?

Because, good gravy, this mama is working ALL.THE.TIME. Truth Bomb! Our legislators are part-timers and most, if not all, leave their full-time jobs temporarily to serve us during Session. 

The General Assembly starts their annual Regular Session on the second Wednesday of January. In an even-numbered year like 2018, the legislature meets for 60 calendar days. So, if you’re good at calendar math, this year’s session JUST ended on March 10th. In odd-numbered years, they meet for 30 calendar days, but that is usually extended to 46 calendar days. Sweet Jiminy, who started all this odd-and-even days and years scheduling? 

Now, there are other times during the year when they may be called into Session. Generally, though, the bulk of their legislative work is done during the first couple months of the year.

Lesson 4: How do bills become laws? (Do NOT skip this section!)

The greatest responsibility that Senators and Delegates have is introducing bills and ultimately enacting them into law. Just to keep it real, this process is super complicated. I’m going to break it down, a bit, but if you want the long version, check it out here.

  • Bills are introduced in either the Senate or the House. A representative works with staff attorneys and the Division of Legislative Services to draft an actual bill, based on a proposed idea. These guys check existing laws and whether or not the proposed legislation is constitutional. Basically, they make that ish legit. 
  • The bill is then referred to the appropriate committee and usually subcommittee to study, discuss and vote on the bill. #toomanycooks
  • If it survives a committee vote, it heads to the floor of the Senate or House for a vote.
  • If passed, it’s then sent to the other house for consideration which involves tossing it to that body’s appropriate committee. Grab your popcorn for a very complicated tennis match, people. 
  • If there are differences in what the House wants and what the Senate wants to see in the bill, which I’d bet money there almost always is, the bill then goes through a ‘Committee of Conference’ to resolve the differences. 
  • Once it’s passed by both bodies, it’s signed by the presiding officer of each house (Speaker for the House, Lt. Gov for the Senate) and then sent to the Governor for approval. Hi-oh!!! 
  • He or she can approve it, amend it, veto it, or take no action and it can STILL become law, just without his or her ‘blessing’.
  • Bills enacted in regular session take effect the 1st day of July. So for the session that just ended, the laws that passed take effect July 1, 2018.

So, yeah…not very streamlined stuff here. Processes and procedure rarely slow down the timeline or keep timely issues from being acted on, I’m sure.

Lesson 5: Who are MY representatives?

Now I’ve got you wondering, right? Click on the link below, put in your address and your State Delegate, State Senator, US Congressman (for the House of Representatives), and two US Senators will populate. Score one for the keepin’ it easy team.

Who’s My Legislator?

Lesson 6: When are they elected?

Ever gotten to your local polling place in November, looked at the ballot and had NO IDEA what you were voting for? Me either. 😉 But, if I ever *HAD* wondered what state-level offices would be on the ballot each year in November, it would have been good to know this:

State Senators
They serve 4-year terms and the next state Senate election is in 2019.

State Delegates
These folks serve for two years, so you’ll see their offices open more often. All 100 seats of the House of Delegates will be up for grabs in 2019.

Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General
The last election for these 4-year term positions was in 2017 so the next will be in 2021.

Here’s the deal, I’m no political expert (yet), but it sounds like 2019 is shaping up to be a big election year in Virginia, for sure. Good news is you have time. But, federal mid-term elections pop up in November 2018 and that might get pretty interesting given the last two years.

So, take a week or two to get a general understanding of state government. Soon, we’ll roll into federal government which, I’m sure will be less complicated. Wink. Wink. 

Tonight’s homework: Learn who your representatives are, poke around on the websites, and read 20 minutes a day. Because, if reading 20 minutes is a daily requirement of an 8-year old, it should be a daily requirement of her mom. 

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