Happy Crossover Day, fellow Virginians! For any non-lawmaking junkies reading this post, “crossover”, which happens at the end of the day today, is the point after which each house of the General Assembly begins to consider only bills that have passed the other house. It’s a key point in the General Assembly session calendar – it’s a deadline, because bills that haven’t passed the house in which they started can’t be considered further; and it’s a new beginning, because the work that helped bills pass one house now needs to be repeated in the other, from subcommittees to floor votes.
This post offers a couple of overall thoughts, and a few bill status updates, on this happy mid-Session occasion.
As recommended before, one of the best ways to keep track of bills you care about (beyond monitoring them in person or on LIS yourself) is to consult one of the many good bill charts maintained by interest groups. Check out lists from the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, the ACLU of Virginia, the Virginia Press Association, and OneVirginia2021 for a start.
Things can change during a Session – it’s not over ’til it’s over. Passage by one house doesn’t mean a bill is a done deal. Indeed, savvy legislators often push a bill along quickly in the beginning, knowing that that changes may be needed later but that quietly clearing a committee or a house before attention focuses on a bill may be crucial. The secret subpoena bills (Del. Jennifer McClellan’s HB1946 & Sen. Jennifer Wexton’s SB919) that we wrote about a couple weeks ago are a good example this Session. Those “sneak and peek” bills, which would provide a warrantless blank check for Virginia prosecutors and gag the subpoenaed providers, quickly passed their originating houses but may face a rockier road ahead now thanks to subsequent media attention. (Kudos to Watchdog.org’s Kenric Ward and WRIC’s Kerri O’Brien for their stories publicizing the issue.)
On the flip side, this is a time to redouble efforts for good bills, such as Del. Mark Cole’s HB1287 (which would reform Virginia’s money-making, guilty-until-proven-innocent civil asset forfeiture process), and Del. Rich Anderson’s HB1673 (which was proposed to address dragnet surveillance in general and license plate readers in particular) & its Senate companion (Sen. Chap Petersen’s SB965).
HB1287’s asset forfeiture reform passed the House 92-6 but heads to a Senate committee that torpedoed a similar Senate bill (Sen. Charles Carrico’s SB684). HB1673 looks poised for House passage, albeit with House amendments that reduce its scope and exempt LPR data from FOIA, and SB965 cleared the Senate easily, but pro-surveillance forces are likely to continue resisting and trying to dilute the bills.
There’s got to be a better way than this. Please take note of Del. Rich Anderson’s quote about time to review legislation. To the casual voter or observer, this may seem shocking – perhaps because you think that each legislator should read each bill and think about their votes carefully before voting to change the law. But that ideal finds little room to breathe and grow into reality in a session that lasts only 45 days (including weekends), considers literally thousands of bills, requires each member to attend many meetings in committees and with lobbying and constituent groups, and is conducted by a group of persons who have families, other jobs, and other limits on their attention and expertise.
On the spectrum of legislative bodies, at one end stands the U.S. Congress – “full-time” but with many more breaks than the average person, apparently unable to complete a normal budgeting and appropriations process, and perennially getting little done in the face of much that needs to be done. At the other stands the Virginia General Assembly – “part-time” and getting much done (too) quickly as bills that often are not widely circulated or carefully considered before Session spin through the vortex of the legislative process. We’re not sure what the perfect system is, but surely these two extremes aren’t the only or best options.