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A Reporter's Perspective on General Assembly 2016

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Wrapping up this week is Virginia's General Assembly. Virginia's legislature meets just two months out of every year and part-time lawmakers from across the state will be leaving Richmond and heading back home soon. Also wrapping up there is our reporter, Mallory Noe-Payne -- who covered the General Assembly for the first time this year. She spoke with Tab O’Neal about her experiences.

Tab O’Neal: Start us off with a primer on how lawmaking happens.

Mallory Noe-Payne: "So a quick civics lesson – the way things work is it begins with committees. That’s where the bulk of the nitty gritty work really happens. It’s where people come to speak for or against the bills; it’s where lawmakers are ironing out language; it’s where they’re proposing hypotheticals that may seem ludicrous, but in reality, are really important, because these things are going to become laws. And then about halfway through the session, everything switches – so whatever has made it through the House of Delegates gets sent to the Senate, and whatever makes it through the Senate gets sent to the House of Delegates. And just because it’s made it through one body doesn’t mean it’s going to make it through another. And finally, the last step, it goes to the governor’s desk and he gets the final say.

Even though I studied government in college, it’s a whole different world to see it unfolding and taking place before you.

TO:  What’s one of those things you wouldn’t have known about beforehand? 

MNP: "One of my biggest takeaways is that lawmaking is really a multi-year process. So, one of the bills that I was following for a lot of the session was about AirBnB – or the regulation of short-term rental markets in the state. That bill passed, for instance, the first chamber it was introduced in – it was introduced in the House of Delegates first – and it passed pretty easily, not a lot of discussion or hubbub. And then, people got all fired up about it. The tourism industry and the hotel industry; localities and cities realized their toes were really getting stepped on in the process so they started to perk up. And by the time the legislation hit the Senate, a lot of people had come out against it. So what ended up happening is that the bill was really stripped down and all that ended up happening was that a work group was created to study the issue and to come back next year with proposals and ideas on how best to do this. So just because you may have been following a bill this session and nothing came of it this year, doesn't mean that the topic is over by any means.”

TO: Well what DID come of the session this year?

MNP: “A lot! Most importantly a budget. A budget is no small feat, when you consider that in years prior – for instance, the last budget year – that process dragged on well into the summer months, putting Virginia on the verge of a government shutdown. So the fact that it’s done on time, relatively pain-free…

In addition to the budget we also have more than 300 new laws on the books from this session. Everything from a whole suite of laws dealing with more protection for gun rights, then you have things like mandating more physical exercise for elementary schoolers."

TO: So what’s the big takeaway for you for next year’s session? 

MNP: "Really the final thing I’d have to say is that if you’re interested in being more involved in this process in the future, it’s easy to do because of the online resources available. Virginia has a great website for tracking online legislation. You can see where it is in committee, who supported it and who hasn’t – you know, I know it’s a cliché phrase, but write your state lawmakers! Call them, tell them how you feel about things…the closer government gets to you, the farther down the food chain, so to say, we get – the more it really does make a difference.”

Mallory Noe-Payne covered the General Assembly for WVTF Radio IQ.

    

Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief. She's covered policy and politics from the state capital since 2016. She was a 2020-2021 recipient of the Fulbright Young Journalist Award. She spent a year in Munich, Germany researching memory, justice, and how a society can collectively confront its sins. Her Virginia-based coverage of home healthcare workers, voting rights, and Richmond’s Slave Trail have won national news awards.
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