Column: General Assembly Session Stalled

Column: General Assembly Session Stalled

The beautiful red and pink camellias on Capitol Square in Richmond have been blooming for a couple of weeks. In a normal year that would be a sign that it is time for the General Assembly to quit and go home. In the early period of its history, Virginia established a schedule for the legislature to meet in the winter to allow its farmer members to go home in the spring and plant their crops. There are few farmers in the legislature these days, but the legislative schedule established in the Constitution is still followed. Things do not change very quickly in Richmond.

This session of the General Assembly has been anything but normal. In even-numbered years The Assembly meets for 60 days in order to deal with regular legislative business and to pass a budget for the next biennium. This year’s adjournment date of March 10 is not likely to be met. The hang-up is the budget. The equally divided State Senate of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans cannot agree on a spending plan because they cannot agree on a power-sharing plan. The Republican Lieutenant Governor who presides over the Senate and who has been breaking tie votes all session is prohibited from voting on the budget. After winning an equal share of the members in last November’s election, the Republicans took over all the committee chairmanships and dictated the committee membership because the lieutenant governor was available to break any ties. With the budget some accommodation or compromise must be reached. And in an all-too-familiar context, the budget must be approved by June 1 in order to keep the government running.

In the meantime, the General Assembly is likely to recess while the negotiations around the organization of the Senate and the biennial budget continue. That will give our farmer members time to plant their crops and others to return to their businesses and families.

If you are keeping score on the hot button issues, the Governor signed the bill to repeal the law that limited hand gun purchases to one a month. I voted against the repeal as it is likely to cause more problems than it solves for the persons who want to buy more than a dozen pistols a year. A modified requirement for an ultrasound before an abortion passed and will be signed by the Governor. I voted against it. The public outcry over the original requirement for a transvaginal ultrasound led to the change to be an abdominal procedure that apparently provides little or no information but will be legally required whether or not the doctor sees the need for it. New requirements for registration and voting passed to solve no identified problem but could poise Virginia in the presidential election to be the Florida of 2002 in 2012.

We will pass a budget in due course. Too bad we passed some really bad bills. Watch for an announcement of the schedule of my community meetings to discuss other bills considered and passed this session.