Lester Feder is one of the new regular contributors to the Democracy for Virginia blog. You can read about Lester and our other new contributors here.
How can we influence legislation in Virginia? In order to lobby effectively, you first need to know how the process works and what opportunities you have to influence it. First I'll outline the process, and then describe the ways we can help move it in our direction.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll track a bill originating in the House of Delegates on its way to becoming law:
Step I: Filing and Introduction
Before the beginning of the legislative session, delegates can file as many pieces of legislation as they desire. This means they present them to the House clerk, who assigns them bill numbers. (The infamous domestic partnership ban, for example, is known as House Bill 751, or, more commonly, by the abbreviated HB 751.) After the session begins, each member can file up to five additional proposals.
Filing a bill, however, does not mean it automatically enters the legislative process. In order for the House to act on a bill, a member of that body—known in Virginia as a patron (which is equivalent to a sponsor in the US Congress)—has to introduce it.
Step II: Subcommittee and Committee
After a bill is introduced, the House Speaker assigns it to a committee where it will be given its initial hearing. Usually it is pretty obvious what will go to what committee: bills concerning transportation go to the Transportation Committee, bills concerning child support goes to the Health, Welfare, and Institutions committee, bills concerning guns go to Militia and Public Safety, etc.
The committee chairman usually assigns the bill to a subcommittee, which is made up of a portion of the committee membership, who review the bill and makes a recommendation to the full committee on what action to take on it. In subcommittee they have the option to amend it, and then they vote on whether the full committee should report it, which means the bill would advance to the next step in the process and be presented to the full House for passage; to table it, which means it does not advance, but does not totally die, either; or to pass it by indefinitely (PBI), which means it would be killed without ever coming up for a vote. (SUBCOMMITTEE VOTES ARE NOT RECORDED)
The committee takes up the bill as amended by the subcommittee along with its recommendation. Before taking final action, the full committee has the option to amend the bill once again. They vote on whether to report, table, or PBI the measure. (They are not obligated to follow the subcommittee’s recommendation.
If they vote to table of PBI a bill, it does not advance. If, however, they vote to report it …