Opinion: Commentary: How Bills Become Law

Opinion: Commentary: How Bills Become Law

Following the completion of the historic 400th session of the General Assembly I have had several constituents of the 44th District ask me what it takes for a bill to become a law. I can tell you first-hand it is a long and arduous process, of the 2,362 bills introduced this session only 30 percent passed. It took a lot of time, education and patience but I was able to pass seven of my 14 bills into law.

The first thing to know about the legislative process is that it begins in earnest months before session. It takes time to properly develop good legislative initiatives. Delegates and senators are already creating their legislative agendas for next year by meeting with constituents to develop proposals to be introduced as bills that would create a new law or change or repeal an old one. It is imperative to start the process early to ensure that there is time to speak with all relevant stakeholders and examine the implications that passing the potential legislation would have on the Commonwealth. During these conversations, compromises and edits can be made to the proposal.

After forming a legislative proposal, bill ideas must be drafted into potential legislation. We will fine tune the drafts many times prior to the final introduced bill. During campaign years, such as this year, drafts can be sent to the House Clerk’s office for introduction shortly after the November election, while in non-campaign years bills can be introduced during the later portion of the summer.

Once a bill is formally filed it is referred by the Speaker to the appropriate standing committee. Oftentimes, there will first be a hearing before one of the subcommittees. Prior to the hearing, I make sure to talk with the members of the subcommittee and the chairman. It is critical to talk with members to gather support and to work out any of their issues with the bill. In order to pass the subcommittee, a bill must receive a majority of the votes of members present; a tie vote results in defeat. If a bill passes, usually after a number of amendments, it then heads to the full standing committee where the same process takes place prior to the committee hearing. If the committee recommends passage of the bill it then goes before the entire House for consideration. On the floor, in accordance with our State Constitution, the title of the bill must be read three different times.The first reading requires the bill number and title to be printed within the House of Delegates floor calendar. On the second reading, the patron explains the legislation to members of the House. During this reading, bills are subject to debate and amendments. After passing the second reading, legislation is sent to its third reading where the House votes on whether to pass the bill and send it to the Senate. This same process is repeated in the Senate. If it passes both the House and Senate, it is then sent to the Governor for consideration.

Occasionally, legislation within the House have similar versions within the Senate. When these bills pass through one body into the other sometimes each chamber will insist on the passage of their version instead of conforming one bill to the other. When this happens, bills are sent to “conference.” Members from each party are selected by the Speaker to be on the conference committee and discuss potential compromises and amendments that will allow the legislation to pass. During this past session I was a conferee on seven bills including the nonpartisan redistricting bill which, after hard work and long discussions was passed in its first step to becoming a constitutional amendment.

Finally, the bill goes to the Governor. The Governor’s first option is to sign the bill into law. Most legislation approved by the Governor officially becomes the law of the Commonwealth on July 1 of the year. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Legislation can have an “emergency clause” attached to it which allows the enactment of the bill to take place sooner. The emergency clause shall be expressed within the body of the bill and the Virginia Constitution requires a 4/5 majority to pass. For example, this session we passed the tax conformity compromise with an emergency clause to ensure that Virginia taxpayers are able to file their taxes on time and without confusion. Additionally, bills can have a delayed enactment clause. This means they will not take effect until a specified later date. This session HB 2790 passed which will allow for “no excuse” absentee voting to take place within the Commonwealth seven days prior to the election. However, it currently has a delayed enactment clause and will not be the law of Virginia until 2020.

The second option the Governor has is to veto or amend the proposed legislation. Each year the General Assembly meets for a “veto session” where all vetoed bills are considered. This year we are set to reconvene on April 3. In order to override a Governor’s veto and become law, two thirds of each chamber of the Virginia General Assembly must vote to do so. If two thirds do not vote to overturn the veto, the bill is defeated and will not become law.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office at DelPKrizek@house.virginia.gov with your legislative ideas for next year’s 2020 General Assembly. This session two of the bills I passed were brought to me by constituents. Oftentimes the most impactful legislation comes from someone sharing their story about a problem they are facing and what part of Virginia law needs to be changed to solve it.

I hope this article has provided you with some insight about the legislative process of the Virginia General Assembly. It is my honor and privilege to serve the the people of the 44th District.