Post written by Brian Fauls, Government Affairs Manager at the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce
This year in Richmond.
“Guess who just got back today / Them wild-eyed boys that had been away / Haven’t changed that much to say / But man, I still think them cats are crazy” – Thin Lizzy
Ah January, that special time of year when it seems like everyone I meet in my travels around northern Virginia advocating on behalf of Loudoun’s business community, inevitably asks me the same burning question. You might think that question is, did you have a nice new year, or how was your Christmas or do you think the Skin’s will be any good next year. But no. The inevitable question is, are you going to Richmond.
Why do people care so much about my travel plans? Because, to paraphrase the rock band Thin Lizzy, “The boys [and girls] are back in town.” That’s right, the Virginia General Assembly has reconvened for 2016. For policy wonks out there, like me, this is an exciting time. For the next 60 days legislators and advocates will be swarming all over Richmond debating the merits of hundreds of potential new laws.
However, I know the rest of you are trying really hard to stifle a yawn of boredom. I’ve seen the glass eyed looks when I talk with non-policy people about the General Assembly. If I talk about the local Board of Supervisors, people are interested; after all the Board controls how much we pay in local property taxes and whether we can build that snazzy deck in our backyard. If I talk about the federal government, people don’t just get interested they get passionate. We’re a company town so I kind of get that, plus the political theater going on in D.C. is enough to get anyone worked up. But, talk about Richmond…. I’d be better off talking about paint drying.
We need to get more excited about the General Assembly. First, Virginia is a “Dillon Rule,” state, which means that every city or county in Virginia must obtain permission from the state legislature if it wishes to pass a law or ordinance which is not already specifically permitted under existing state legislation. This is a tremendously powerful check on the power of local government. In contrast, I grew up in New York which is a so-called “Home Rule” state. In ‘Home Rule” state cities, municipalities, and/or counties have the power to pass laws to govern themselves as they see fit – which is why New York City can have a separate minimum wage law from Buffalo.
Second, there is a great scene towards the end of the play (and movie) 1776 where the Continental Congress is voting on the question of Independence. For the umpteenth time in the play the New York delegate, Lewis Morris, abstains (courteously) from voting and John Hancock – finally fed up with all the abstaining – angrily demands “WHAT IN HELL GOES ON IN NEW YORK?” To wit, Mr. Morris’ explains: “Mr. President, have you ever been present at a meeting of the New York legislature? They speak very fast and very loud, and nobody listens to anybody else, with the result that nothing ever gets done.” That sentiment pretty accurately describes the New York Legislature when I lived in New York. I doubt the New York Legislature functions much more smoothly today.
Some people think government gridlock is a good thing. After all, if the politicians aren’t doing anything that means they’re not messing with your life or your business right? To a point I guess that’s true; if they’re doing nothing they aren’t doing anything bad. But the reverse is also true, they aren’t doing anything good either.
However, a functional government – the Virginia General Assembly actually passes laws – can also be dangerous if people aren’t paying attention to the laws being passed. For example, some new laws being considered this session deal with profound questions of policy, such as whether the Commonwealth should imposes tolls on Interstate 66 (I-66) or require all Virginia businesses to give their employees paid sick leave and vacation time. Other new laws being considered might be slightly less profound (from a certain point of view), such as whether the Commonwealth will “require drivers and passengers to wait to open a car door on the side of moving traffic until “it’s reasonably safe to do so.” (Senate Bill 117 – I’m not making this stuff up).
The “Dillon Rule” gives the Virginia General Assembly great power and they use that power. It is up to us – as citizens, taxpayers and voters, to ensure they use that power to truly make Loudoun County and our Commonwealth a better place to live, work and raise a family.
It’s time we all get excited about going to Richmond.
– Post written by Government Affairs Manager, Brian Fauls
Want to get involved?
The Public Policy Committee meets monthly at the Chamber office. If you’re interested, contact Brian Fauls, Government Affairs Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Public Policy Committee Co-Chair Stacey Miller, email@example.com.