The elections are over, and while we’ve picked up many seats in the House of Delegates, we grassroots activists can’t rest on our laurels just yet. Because now the fun part begins, where the Delegates that we’ve elected and re-elected start actually legislating. In the past couple years, that hasn’t been very interesting, because Democrats held such a small number of seats that they didn’t really have the ability to push their agenda; all they could do (important as it was) was to uphold the Governor’s vetoing of the GOP agenda.
But this year that should be different. No matter the outcome of the last two races still to be decided, a House and Senate this closely split will mean a) better representation on committees and subcommittees; and b) that it only takes a few extra votes one way or another for a bill to pass.
That means that we can take all the energy we put into the 2017 elections, and turn it towards convincing Republicans (perhaps ones whose seats are vulnerable in two years) to vote for bills we agree with and against ones we oppose. In addition to making our voices heard on legislation, we are also bringing positive attention to our legislators for the good bills they’re sponsoring and voting for; and making sure the constituents of those sponsoring and voting for things like “Day of Tears” resolutions know what kind of job their representatives are doing.
To that end, a group of activist leaders have organized a legislative information network (VAPLAN2018), to track and highlight important legislation that is filed in the General Assembly this year; to monitor its progress as it makes its way through the legislative process; and to disseminate information on it to activists, encouraging them to make their voices heard about it. We can be found on Twitter (@VAPLAN2018), or you can sign up to receive email alerts at https://tinyurl.com/VAPLANemailalerts
Before we can begin making our voices heard and advocating, it’s a good idea to make sure we know how bills become law. So I sat down with Delegate Marcus Simon recently, to learn more about how the legislative process works in Virginia, and how we can be effective advocates. We recorded a few short videos to best share the information to activists all over the state.
In the first video, Delegate Simon introduces the project, and discusses why it’s the next logical step for us to pay attention to our elected officials and make sure they know what issues are important to us.
In the second video, Delegate Simon explains where ideas for bills come from, and how legislators turn ideas into bills, with the help of the legislative services team of lawyers in Richmond.
In Delegate Simon’s third video, he talks about how the Democratic legislators, especially the House Democratic Caucus, decide which bills to file and who will file which bills. It’s an interesting process–we’ve seen already this session several bills that are duplicates of other bills filed by other legislators.
The fourth video walks through the legislative process, from the introduction of the bill, moving through subcommittees and committees, to the crossover period where it is taken up in the other chamber, all the way to the Governor’s desk. This is Civics 101, folks!
In the fifth video, Delegate Simon walks us through the Legislative Information System, showing the official information available online for a bill from start to finish. He uses the example of HB815 from the 2016 session, a bill by recently unseated Delegate Jackson Miller that started out as a bill to make the electric chair the default method of execution when lethal injection drugs weren’t available; but ended up amended by Governor McAuliffe into a bill that allowed pharmacies providing lethal injection drugs to keep their identities secret. This is an especially relevant bill for Delegate Simon, because he spoke in opposition to the original bill, and has just recently filed a repeal of the bill.
The sixth video is one of our favorites–we nicknamed it “50 ways to kill a bill.” Delegate Simon didn’t really name 50, but he did name quite a few. Some are a natural part of the legislative process, but others can really be thought of as dirty tricks. The important takeaway from this video is that most bills don’t make it out of subcommittee, so that is where advocacy needs to take place!
The last video goes through the most effective ways to make our voices heard–what to say, who to say it to, by what medium, and when to speak up. Although what works may vary somewhat from one legislator to another, these are good tips for where we need to start.
I hope you all enjoy these videos. It was really great of Delegate Simon to sit down and film them all–I appreciate his willingness to teach and share information with the grassroots community so we can all work together. We are also hoping to sit down and make some on the budget process in the future. If anyone can talk about the budget and still be entertaining, it’s Delegate Simon!