Monday, April 8, 2013

52 Ways to Use Your VRPS Membership: Week 14, Legislation & Lobbying

Legislation and Lobbying
by Nancy Turnage, VRPS Central Office

In order to understand the legislation watchdog function that Virginia Recreation and Park Society performs on behalf of its members, VRPS Executive Director Jim Stutts gave me a tutorial.  Self-admittedly, I'm not much of a government person, and those lessons learned many, MANY years ago in Mr. Wilkerson's Grade 12 high school Government course are long lost.  So here goes.

--Nancy Turnage, VRPS Central Office

The Virginia Legislation Process

The Virginia General Assembly is the legislative body of the Commonwealth of Virginia and is a 2-chamber body consisting of:
  1. the lower house, the Virginia House of Delegates with 100 members serving 2-year terms, and
  2. an upper house, the Senate of Virginia with 40 members serving 4-year terms.  
Every ten years, based on the census, legislative districts are re-divided.

The state constitution specifies that the General Assembly shall meet annually, convening on the second Wednesday in January.  Its regular session is:
  • a maximum of 60 days long in even-numbered years, and
  • 45 days long in odd-numbered years,
The Governor may convene a special session of the General Assembly "when, in his opinion, the interest of the Commonwealth may require".

Bills can originate in the House or the Senate, and those that are not "killed" in the General Assembly are assigned to committees.  Any member of the General Assembly may propose a bill and may also have a patron, chief patron, and co-patrons who sign on to the bill committee.  

Once a bill gets three "readings", it goes to the other chamber and the process begins again.  A reading is when the bill is heard.  It can go to committee in between readings.  Anyone can speak to a committee, if a bill gets there.

There are over 2000 bills introduced each year; most are amended, many die, and a few hundred make it through the General Assembly and on to the Governor for signature.  The Governor can veto a bill, but the General Assembly can overrule with a two-thirds majority vote when they return in April for the Reconvened "Veto" term which typically lasts one day.

Most bills are effective as of July of the same calendar year.

General Assembly committees occasionally meet during the off season (spring, summer, fall).

Also in the fall, legislators can pre-file legislation that will become a bill when it is introduced in January.

The General Assembly has an excellent, easy-to-maneuver website:

Virginia Recreation and Park Society Lobbying

In order to be represent a client, a lobbyist must:
  • apply to be a lobbyist,
  • register with the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and
  • file a disclosure form afterwards, identifying any money spent (for example, if representing a client).
Registered lobbyists on behalf of VRPS are:
These VRPS watchdogs track legislative data and any bill relevant to Virginia parks and recreation daily.  They also collaborate with the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties.

It is often necessary for VRPS members to contact their legislators to voice VRPS' position; they can identify their contacts by going to the VRPS website.

To see how VRPS has been lobbying on behalf of its members, please reference the posted annual legislative reports.

  • Click HERE to see what the 2013 legislative platform includes.
  • Click HERE to track the 2013 Virginia legislation.

There are many success stories, the most recent of which is that in the 2013 session, VRPS was able to influence legislators to allow VRPS and other related user groups to spend a year studying to determine and recommend safety procedures to prevent unstable soccer goals from falling and injuring the general public.

So, back to Grade 12 U.S. Government:  how did I do, Mr. Wilkerson?  It just goes to show you ... you do (eventually) use what you learn in high school.  Except trigonometry.  Trigonometry is just ridiculous.

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