Voting & Legislative Process

Voting & Legislative Process

Legislative Process

Our elected officials come to Richmond every year during the General Assembly session to debate the issues affecting Virginia.  The laws that they pass have great impact on our environment. While the Session only lasts 45 or 60 days, the legislative process continues all year round. Knowing this process is essential if you hope to influence its outcome and protect our land, water and air.

Legislative Timeline

Before Session

Between May and November, when legislators are back in their home districts, they will be keeping their ears to the ground to learn about their district – who’s active, what issues are becoming a priority, etc. Many legislators will hold town hall meetings to do this. Legislators will then use this time to develop their agenda for the session. They will work with constituents and other interests to develop the legislation that they will introduce.

It is important that citizens interested in conservation engage their legislators in this process.  You can do this by:

  • Building a coalition around an issue
  • Think of ways that interests can overlap and find a common agenda with other individuals, non-profits, and even businesses
  • Take these ideas to legislators at home in your district. This will provide a more casual setting where you will have more time to make a case for your issue

All pre-filed legislation must be submitted by early December.

Fast and Furious: The Legislative Session

The General Assembly session begins the second Wednesday in January. There are 45 day-long sessions in odd-numbered years and 60 day-long sessions in even-numbered years.

During this time, if you are working on specific legislation you should:

  • Finalize bill introduction, make sure your legislator is still on board, and learn any new developments regarding your issue(s)
  • Begin tracking the bill to find out what committee(s) it will go to
  • Prepare talking points for bill patron to present the bill
  • Lobby committees and count votes to learn who’s with you and who’s not
  • Present testimony at committee meetings
  • Research what amendments to the bill can make it more palatable for other legislators

How a Bill Becomes Law

The legislative process is more complicated than what you learned in high school civics. The following is a timeline for the “life” (or death) of a bill:

  • Session convenes on the second Wednesday in January
  • Committees (and subcommittees) review bills, recommend action (report, fail to report, pass by indefinitely, report with amendments, refer to another committee)
  • If a bill reports from committee it goes to the floor
  • Floor consideration
  • Three readings
  • Bloc votes usually occur when bills report unanimously out of committee
  • Bills can be amended on the floor
  • Mid-point of session: “Cross-over” (House bills go to Senate, and vice versa)
  • Bills that successfully passed through one chamber must travel the same route all over again in the other chamber.
  • Sine Die: last day of session (45 or 60 days from convention)
  • The Governor acts on all bills that successfully passed through both chambers. He has 3 options – sign, amend, or veto.
  • Finally, the General Assembly reconvenes to agree to the Governor’s amendments or to override his veto(es).

After Session

Remember to thank the legislators you worked with personally and publicly (if appropriate).

  • After the session ends, communicate your positions with the Governor.
  • Remember to track the Governor’s actions and respond or communicate with legislators, if appropriate. A bill doesn’t become a law until the Governor signs it.
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