I am going to be taking two of my grandchildren to the Barnum and Bailey Circus at the Richmond Coliseum tonight. It is really amazing how quickly the circus can move into its venue; amaze, entertain and hold in suspense its audience; and then pack up and move on. Just a few blocks from the Coliseum, the General Assembly opened at the State Capitol the second week in January and will pack up this week and members will go back home. For the last six weeks the 140 members of the House of Delegates and State Senate along with their staff and about a thousand lobbyists have been holding forth on Capitol Square for the annual legislative session. The agenda is serious, and the activities over the past several weeks have been humorous, suspenseful and in a term used by the circus ringmaster, “unbelievable.”
As we pick through the pieces of a legislature getting ready to adjourn, we find that there have been almost 3,000 bills and resolutions dispensed within a short period of time. Fortunately the legislature has gone paperless with most of its functions saving the hundreds of trees that were killed in the past to support the process. By going online, citizens have greater access to what is going on at www.virginiageneralassembly.gov. Less than a third of the introduced legislation will make it to the Governor’s desk, and some of that will be duplicate bills from the House and Senate. Even more fortunate is the fact that most people will be unaffected by the legislation as much of it relates to the operation of government and the courts.
Some of the bills that got media attention luckily will not be becoming law. Bills have to pass both houses in identical form to go to the Governor for his signature. The House plan to study a currency for Virginia (that I opposed) was defeated in the Senate. A Senate bill that would have regulated fox penning (that I supported in committee) died in subcommittee. A bill that passed the Senate that would have outlawed discrimination in state employment based on sexual orientation was killed in the same House subcommittee that has killed my bills on the same subject for many years. The Governor’s effort to restore voting rights to offenders (that I supported) was defeated in a House committee. A resolution warning of the evils of the United Nations Agenda 21 passed the House (without my vote) but was defeated in the Senate.
These bills and others like them were but sideshows when compared with the bills in the center ring. Adjustments at the midpoint of the biennial budget would have been simple enough if not for the opportunity for the state to expand Medicaid to provide insurance for almost 400,000 more of the working poor in the Commonwealth. The health benefits and the quality of life and economic benefits of the expansion are clear, and the expansion has been endorsed by the Virginia and Fairfax Chambers of Commerce. The opposition comes from the Governor and other conservatives who got themselves out on a limb in opposing the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.” A conference committee continues to work on a solution to resolve the matter.
Responding to the estimated $1 billion per year in transportation needs with revenue-neutral bills as demanded by many will require a magic act worthy of any big tent performance. Our congestion is the worst in the country, but a group of legislators consider their no-tax commitment to Grover Norquist to be more important than their constituents’ interests. A conference committee is trying to work out this issue.
When these two big issues are resolved, the legislature will fold its tent for the off-season but will return again next year for some of the same acts.