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Del. Ken Plum: How a Bill Does Not Become a Law in Virginia

by Del. Ken Plum — February 9, 2017 at 10:15 am 9 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photo

Most people can remember the flowchart from high school civics class that graphically showed how a bill becomes a law.

According to the chart, a legislator gets an idea for a bill that is drafted, introduced into one house of the Legislature where it is heard by a committee, sent to the floor for a vote if approved, and sent on to the other house for the same routine. Generally, that is what happens in the best of circumstances, but reality is much more complicated.

I can best make my point about what really happens in too many cases by reviewing the erratic course of a couple of bills in this session of the Virginia General Assembly that will not become law.

There is an increasing realization that many legislatures — including the General Assembly in Virginia — are not as responsive to public opinion as would be expected from democratically elected bodies, because of the way that legislative boundaries are drawn. An intense campaign by an organization named OneVirginia2021 has made many people aware that under the current system of having the Legislature drawing its own district boundaries, legislators are picking their voters rather than voters picking their representatives.

By comparing voting histories with census numbers, district boundaries can be drawn that are safe for incumbent legislators. The likelihood of incumbents being defeated is so slight that they go unchallenged. I have been working on this issue throughout my political career and once again introduced legislation to establish an independent legislative redistricting commission. My bill was sent to the Privileges and Elections Committee, where it was assigned to a subcommittee. The subcommittee allowed me and others with similar bills to make presentations with comments from the public.

A survey of my district indicates that about 80 percent of my constituents support a nonpartisan approach to drawing district lines. Other legislators introduced bills to accomplish the same result. My bill and all the others were swept together in one motion and defeated by a vote of four to one. On this important issue, four legislators made the decision for the entire 140 members of the General Assembly.

This is not an unusual situation. My bill that would have required universal background checks for gun purchases had the support of the governor and 90 percent of my constituents. It was sent to the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee and then to a subcommittee of five legislators, four of whom have an A+ rating by the National Rifle Association. There was little surprise when my bill and all the other common-sense gun safety measures were defeated by a vote of four to one.

Under the Rules of the House, the Speaker of the House makes all committee assignments. Rather than a balance of points of views, the committee membership is stacked to reflect his position of the majority party. The Speaker also decides which committee will consider which bills. The rigged committee membership makes it easy to explain how a bill does not become a law in Virginia.

  • meh

    So to summarize, you’ve once again blown a whole lot of hot air and haven’t really done much of anything?

  • safeway is scary

    dont forget activist judges tossing out legal law and executive orders because they want to get a high five at the next cocktail party they attend.

    • giant is ghastly

      exactly, we would be so much better off if there were just the one executive branch of government. Getter done.

  • Rational Reston

    Sounds like excuses for the failure of hyper-partisan proposals. Perhaps a more moderate approaches would be successful.

  • The Constitutionalist

    Ken, I think, like always, you’re off in your own little world when it comes to what your constituents want.

    I think it’s laughable how you come up with the numbers for your polls. You can’t just ask five of your personal assistants if they agree with you and say that it represents 80% of your constituents.

    You should do another poll, poll 80% of your constituents and ask them if they’ve ever been polled by you.

    How about trying to create laws that don’t run contradictory to the constitution or people’s desires?

    Or, how about stop trying to pass laws at all?

    When your ideas fail by an 80% margin, it really should tell you something, but that by itself would require you to lose this notion that America is a democracy.

    All you’ve done today is explained how the system is working… for the people.

  • Scott

    “Common Sense” to a liberal is never common sense…usually means far-left and potentially unconstitutional.

  • 30yearsinreston

    Another excuse from Plum who benefits from gerrymandered districts

  • Sally Carter

    Thank you for enlightening us about this disappointing process, Delegate Plum. I appreciate your efforts.

  • drb

    Mr. Plum again complains that his party is not the majority. Why? Because those that draw the district do so like those that did when his party had control. We see the same complaint over in Maryland. Hey Ken, go help the Republicans in Maryland and see how far your fellow Democrats will support you.
    Again with the gun universal background checks. It already is done. So if Mr. Plum wishes new laws in this regard then support the need and explain exactly what his law would do to the citizens.

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