Legislative

Constitution

The Constitution of Virginia, last fully rewritten/revised in 1971, is freely available, searchable, and downloadable via the Legislative Information System (LIS) online.

The Legislature

Virginia’s legislature and lawmaking body is the General Assembly.  It consists of a Senate (with 40 members) and House of Delegates (with 100 members).  Unlike the U.S. Congress, the General Assembly is not a body with only certain powers; instead, the General Assembly “has the inherent power to enact any law not in conflict with, or prohibited by, the State or federal Constitutions.”  Commonwealth v. Arlington County Bd., 217 Va. 558, 575, 232 S.E.2d 30, 41 (1977).  The General Assembly’s website provides general information about the legislature, including how a bill becomes a law and visiting the State Capitol; allows you to look up who your legislators are and find information about their offices and websites; and even provides live streams of proceedings when the legislature is in session (see session info and links).  (The General Assembly’s regular Sessions begin on the 2nd Wed of January and continue for 60 days in even numbered years and 30-46 days in odd numbered years.)

The Code of Virginia

The Code of Virginia (abbreviated “Va. Code” when citing it) is the main body of statutory law in Virginia.  It is divided into titles, chapters, articles (not marked on LIS), and sections.  The last full revision of the Code took place in 1950, although particular titles have been replaced since then.  Lexis produces an annotated version of the Code (the statutes, plus notes and interpretive cases) that can be found in law libraries.  The Code itself is freely available and searchable on LIS, with a Table of Contents, a Popular Names list for acts (such as the Virginia Freedom of Information Act), and search capabilities.

Acts of Assembly, Bills, and General Assembly Materials

Each year, all of the bills that pass the General Assembly, are signed by the Governor, and become law are turned into chapters and volumes known as the Acts of Assembly.  Although all revisions to the Code of Virginia appear in the Acts of Assembly, the reverse is not true — not all of the provisions of the Acts of Assembly appear in the Code of Virginia.  Even those provisions that remain buried in the Acts of Assembly are still law.

LIS provides access to bills and General Assembly materials, including the Acts of Assembly, since 1994.  When searching the LIS Bills and Resolutions database, Acts of Assembly show up as “CHAP####”.  You can also bring up a list of all the Acts of Assembly for a Session by clicking “Bills & Resolutions”, then, under Governor, “Acts of Assembly Chapters.”)  In addition, as you bring up a section of the Code of Virginia on LIS, look at the bottom of the statute and you’ll find, in parentheses, a list of the chapters of the Acts of Assembly that have amended the section.  For example, see Va. Code § 2.2-3704, which was last amended (prior to 2013) by “2011, c. 604”, which means 2011 Va. Acts ch. 604. Since 1994, the listed Acts are linked to the full text of the Acts, along with PDF versions and legislative history.  If you want the official, final, and legally effective version of a bill, you need to look at the Acts.

Appropriation Act

The Appropriation Act, also known as the budget, is passed in every even year and typically amended extensively in every odd year.  LIS makes the Appropriation Act available — in each Session (see the “OTHER SESSIONS” drop-down field on the left), follow the Budget link.  The 2013 Appropriation Act is here.  The 2012 Appropriation Act is here.  The Appropriation Act is effective only during the biennium (the two year period beginning July 1) for which it was passed.  In the event of a conflict between the Code of Virginia and the Appropriation Act, the Appropriation Act prevails.

Last updated: 1/11/2014