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The Virginia General Assembly

Mark Twain said, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session”. That saying always makes me smile and then nod.

I start the blog out with that because I have asked Brian Sullivan to do a summary of the past Virginia General Assembly session. I’ll let you decide if you think Mark Twain was right. On to Brian’s analysis:

 

This past January and February, the Virginia General Assembly met and considered nearly 3,000 bills, resolutions and budget amendments.  Of those, the House passed 456, and the Senate passed 344; for a grand total of 800 new laws!  Well, slightly less since some are doubled; but it’s still a lot and most of these go into effect on July 1st.   So you better get to reading!

Fortunately, the vast majority of these will have little to no effect to you whatsoever.

For example: House Bill (HB) 1545 and Senate Bill (SB) 685 removes the word “inspection” from references to the United States Postal Inspection Service in several criminal procedure sections.  Exciting, right?

Other new laws may effect you, but almost unnoticeably; HB1440 & SB899 allow the ABC to round the final price of each container of alcoholic beverages it sells to end with a nine (9).  Under current law, the final price may be a multiple of five (5).  So if you’re planning a large Independence Day party, be sure to do your shopping a week in advance to save those 4 pennies!

News coverage for the session has mostly focused on new laws concerning the handling and reporting of sexual assaults on college campuses, ethics reform, budget amendments, and a few others.  Most of the other bills passed are technical adjustments or minor policy changes, others only effecting associations or a small subset of the population.  But there are a few that could be of interest to you.  Let’s take a look:

  • HB1342 & SB1220: These bills expand the law against following too closely to more than just cars.  This now includes non-motor vehicles like bicycles, electric assistive mobility devices, electric power-assisted bicycles, and mopeds.
  • HB1499 & SB1427: Provide that a mother may breastfeed in any place where the mother is lawfully present. Current law only allows breastfeeding on any property owned, leased, or controlled by the Commonwealth.
  • HB1307 & SB1293: Public elementary and secondary schools will no longer be permitted to require parents to provide the student’s social security number.  Instead, an identification number program is being developed.  (goes into effect August 1st.)
  • HB2090 & SB1260: Require new training standard materials and regulation for Restaurants that address food safety and food allergy awareness and safety.

And last but not least:

Of course, depending on what you do for a living or what your interests are, there are potentially many new laws that may directly effect you.  If you’d like to take a look at all the bills that were passed by the General Assembly this year, it’s as easy as clicking here.

And now for our usual blog pic o’ day…

Bear

 

 

 

Brian Sullivan’s Guest Blog Post

I asked Brian Sullivan to write a blog post on lobbying. Then, I realized that I needed to write a quick introduction to this guest blog post. So… Brian  came to work at the firm a few months ago, with an emphasis on governmental issues. Even though he is not a lawyer, he has a diverse background in political/oversight/non-profit organization.

He was present at the 2015 Virginia General Assembly and  worked on/monitored legislation that impacted our firm and practice. We sure enjoyed his reports.

I asked him to write a guest blog on lobbying. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did…

From the desk of Brian Sullivan… 

What is a Lobbyist?  You are!

Dinners, trips, gifts and deals.  These are a few of the things you may think of when hearing the word “lobbyist”.  Things aren’t always what they seem in the movies, or even in the news; so what exactly is a lobbyist?

Strictly speaking, in Virginia, a lobbyist is:

“any individual who is employed in any manner or who is reimbursed for expenses, or who represents an organization, association or other group for the purpose of influencing or attempting to influence executive or legislative action through oral or written communication with an executive or legislative official; this includes anyone who solicits others to influence an executive or legislative official.”

That’s quite a broad definition.  However, paid lobbyists aren’t the only ones who are involved in the process.  Anyone who has ever written an email or called their representative is in fact “attempting to influence executive or legislative action”.  By the above definition, “lobbying” even includes soliciting others to advocate as well.  So, if you’ve ever had a heated discussion on a public policy issue, it could be said that you have engaged in “lobbying”.  Congratulations!

As members of a Representative Democracy, it is our right, and even our duty, to contact our elected officials; it’s an integral part of the process.  Not only do our elected officials want to hear from us about the issues before them, they actually rely on it.   While a legislator’s role is to represent a group of people and cast votes based on that representation, the role of a lobbyist is to represent a single or group of interests, and to provide information to support those interests.  The process just doesn’t work without everyone involved.

This year’s session was 44 days, with 2,775 bills, 10+ hour days packed with Committee, constituent and voting session meetings, not to mention the hundreds of daily phone calls and emails.   To say this time is busy, would be like saying Boston got a bit of snow this year!  As busy as the schedule is, the hallways (and especially the elevators) are even busier! On any given day, the building is packed with hundreds of registered lobbyists, and as many non-registered individuals and groups.  It would be safe to say that the ratio is 50:1.

But as hectic as this all may sound (and it is!), as each bill comes up in Committee, the question is always asked: “Is there anyone from the public here to speak in favor or against this bill?”.  More often than not, the side with the most support from the public is the one that prevails.  From time to time, a legislator will even cast a vote based on a single communication from a constituent!

So, do you need access to private jets and expense accounts to get your voice heard?  No.  All you need is the time it takes to make a call, write an email, or even make your way downtown.  Don’t have time for any of that?  Well then……….……just hire a lobbyist!

Congressman Scott Rigell’s Dilemma

     I intended to move to Part 2, for yesterday’s blog, and got sidetracked on another blog story. I promise to get to the   “Why”, for the Governor McDonnell veto. In the meantime, I do what I seem to always enjoy doing….. I digress.

     I saw an article in Pilot Online  that  discusses the NO vote of Congressman Scott Rigell (R-VA), from the 2nd District. Bills becoming law have always held some fascination for me. It’s why I was a Political Science major in college, in the first place.

      Political Science majors were always known as people that didn’t know what they wanted to major in, so it seemed easy and not too much of a commitment toward any specific career. I once heard a minister joke that the way that some knew that they wanted to be ministers in churches, was that “they woke up in the morning, craving chicken and not wanting to go to work”. Kinda like Poly Sci.

     All that leads me to Congressman Rigell voting against the Federal budgetary deal, that funds the government through  the remaining months of 2011. I have seen both sides of the aisle agree on voting against it and for it. In this instance,  even liberal Independent Senator  Bernie Sanders  (I-VT) also voted against the budget bill.

     This shows different philosophies arriving at the same ending.   Sanders says he voted against it because it did not provide funding for programs that helped the poor and elderly. He thought the budget does not do enough in funding.

     Congressman Rigell thought it didn’t do enough in reductions . He was the lone Virginia legislator to vote against it because it does not adequately deal with the budget deficit. He feels that, as a fiscal conservative, he could not vote for this spending bill.

     Now, drawing on my old Political Science days, here is the interesting caveat. Rigell’s vote basically was voting to shut down the government. That would have the effect of shutting down government services; eliminating or delaying government worker pay; and halting or delaying military pay. The Second District (Rigell’s) has many government and military personnel that he represents…. His constituents that elected him. 

     Rigell said that passage of this bill increases the federal deficit. Such an increase “threatens the foundation of this country”

     To me, some of this blog gets a bit boring until you consider the following  question. As an elected Congressman, does he owe a duty to vote for his constituents or vote for what he thinks is best for the country. I suspect that the next election for Congress will have an ad that may ask prospective voters, that exact question. “Who does Congressman  Rigell represent?”  Kinda like trying to figure out the correct blog title spelling for  “dilemma” or “dilemna”.

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