Reston, VA

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Sonny Bono wrote a catchy tune reminding us that “the beat goes on…History has turned the page, uh huh.”

So it is in the Commonwealth of Virginia: the action of governance goes on. Since 1619 there has been a form of representative government in first the colony and now the state. The legislative branch, the General Assembly, has since 1971 been meeting every year; prior to that time the House of Delegates and the Senate met only every other year. The legislative sessions convene as prescribed in the Constitution on the second Wednesday of January for sixty days in the even-numbered years and for thirty days in the odd-numbered years unless at least two-thirds of the members agree to extend the session for not more than thirty days. The sessions have always been extended but by not more than 15 or so days. There is talk by the minority party of not agreeing to any extension of the session scheduled to start on January 13, 2021.

In addition to the regular session, there is a reconvened session beginning on the sixth Wednesday after the adjournment of the regular session to consider any bills returned by the governor with amendments or with a veto. The governor may call a special session “when in his opinion the interest may require” or when two-thirds of the elected members of both houses request it. There is a regular beat to the work of the General Assembly: regular session, reconvened session, special session. For even a part-time legislature, the work goes on!

But there is much more to legislating than the formal and now virtual floor sessions of the House and Senate. Earlier this week there was a deadline to request drafting of legislation to be pre-filed before the session. There is a limitation on how many bills a legislator can introduce especially after the convening of the legislature. For members of the legislative staff who actually draft the bills, this is the intense period between Thanksgiving and the opening of the session when 140 members present their best ideas to be crafted into a form that would be suitable to go into the Code of Virginia. The entire support staff of the legislative branch could not be more helpful and deserve our thanks for helping get us through the stressful period of the session.

Pre-session work also includes meetings with advocacy groups (virtually now), monthly meetings of the Appropriations Committee and the Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission and other committees on a less regular basis until the session gets underway, and caucuses with our party colleagues. Constituent inquiries and recommendations are very helpful and take time to read and consider.

Prior to the pandemic there was a need to find housing in the Capital city and to arrange to be away from home for the week. The session beginning in January will be virtual so there is the need to make sure your home office has the broadband that will support daily committee and floor sessions. The work is demanding, but I am honored to be part of it. As the song continues, “drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.” The work goes on!

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