This is the final week of the 2019 General Assembly Session. Odd year sessions are our short sessions, when we meet for 45 days rather than 60. In theory we have less to do, since Virginia adopts a biennial budget every other year, although in practice we end up doing almost as much revising to our biennial budget in the odd years as we do when adopting new budgets in the even years.
In addition to figuring out how to manage a significant budget windfall that resulted from tax changes at the federal level that limited Virginians’ ability to itemize deductions (we did a combination of tax payer rebates and raising the Virginia standard deduction), we also considered over 2,200 bills and resolutions.
There is no way to handle that much work in as slow and deliberate a way as we might have liked. Especially in short session years, it’s critical to keep laser focused on our legislative priorities — even in the face of other crises.
Last year, on the heels of our historic gains in the House when we came a random drawing away from partisan parity, I passed a record five bills (out of about 40 that I introduced). In short session years the rules limit us to introducing 15 bills. I’m pleased to report that four of my 15 bills have now passed the Senate. Three of them will go into a conference committee — the process in which two similar bills passed in each respective chamber are reconciled into one — after which, they will head to the Governor’s desk. In addition to this, I submitted 13 commending resolutions to honor those in our community who celebrated a milestone anniversary or work achievement.
In addition to shepherding my own bills through the legislative process, I serve as the Parliamentarian for the House Democratic Caucus. That means I’m responsible for knowing the rules, helping my fellow Delegates navigate the floor, and trying to out-maneuver my colleagues from the other side of the aisle on procedural matters. This session has been particularly interesting when it comes to knowing and using the rules to the maximum benefit of our caucus.
One of the most prominent issues in the General Assembly this year was the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Virginia was presented with a unique opportunity to become the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA. Since the beginning of this session, there have been lobby days, rallies, protests, ROBO calls, and mass emails — all centered on passing the ERA. And for those of you who followed the journey of Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy’s HJR 579, you’ll know that it was defeated in subcommittee by Republicans on a party line vote.
My colleagues in the Senate, however, passed SJR 284, a bipartisan measure introduced by Senators Glen Sturtevant and Dick Saslaw. After crossover, my Republican colleagues in the House left that bill in subcommittee, again on a party line vote.
After crossover, advocates on behalf of the ERA and some of the bill’s original patrons came to me, as the House Democratic Parliamentarian, looking for another path to bring the ERA to a vote on the floor. We know that if the entire body were presented the opportunity to vote on the ERA, rather than just being presented to a small subset of its members in a subcommittee, we have the support to finally pass it in the House.
Working with Delegate Hala Ayala, the House Democrats introduced a rule change that would specifically allow the full House to vote on resolutions to ratify amendments to the United States Constitution by a simple majority vote (HJ 274). In addition, I also introduced a rule change (HJ 280) to allow the House of Delegates to discharge any resolution from a committee by a simple majority.
Proposed rule changes must sit on the Speaker’s desk for five business days — so we’ll know by Thursday of this week whether we can bring the ERA to the floor for a full vote.
I’m cautiously optimistic about the outcome of these proposed rule changes; but I know that even if we cannot ratify the ERA this year, then we will most certainly be able to do it next year with a Democratic majority in the House.