Virginia General Assembly

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Virginia General Assembly

Seal of Virginia.svg.png
General Information
Type:   State legislature
Term limits:   None
2015 session start:   January 14, 2015
Website:   Official Legislature Page
Senate President:   Ralph Northam (D)
House Speaker:  William J. Howell (R)
Majority Leader:   Tommy Norment (R) (Senate),
Kirk Cox (R) (House)
Minority Leader:   Dick Saslaw (D) (Senate),
David Toscano (D) (House)
Members:  40 (Senate), 100 (House)
Length of term:   4 years (Senate), 2 years (House)
Authority:   Art IV, Virginia Constitution
Salary:   $18,000/year (Senate), $17,640/year (House) + per diem
Last Election:  November 5, 2013
100 seats (House)
Next election:  November 3, 2015
40 seats (Senate)
100 seats (House)
Redistricting:  Virginia Legislature has control
The Virginia General Assembly is the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its existence dates from the establishment of the House of Burgesses at Jamestown in 1619. It became the General Assembly in 1776 with the ratification of the Virginia Constitution.

The General Assembly is a bicameral body consisting of a lower house, the Virginia House of Delegates, with 100 members, and an upper house, the Virginia State Senate, with 40 members. The House of Delegates is presided over by a Speaker of the House, while the Senate of Virginia is presided over by the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. The House and Senate each elect a clerk and sergeant-at-arms. Unlike the United States Senate, the Senate of Virginia's clerk is known as the "Clerk of the Senate," instead of the title "Secretary of the Senate" used in the U.S. Senate.

The General Assembly meets in Virginia's capital, Richmond. When sitting in Richmond, the General Assembly holds sessions in the Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1788 and expanded in 1904. The building was renovated in 2005-2006. Senators and Delegates have their offices in the General Assembly Building across the street directly north of the Capitol. The Governor of Virginia lives across the street directly east of the Capitol in the Virginia Governor's Mansion.

The Virginia General Assembly is the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere. It previously met in Jamestown, Virginia from 1619 until 1699, when it moved to [Williamsburg, Virginia and met in the colonial Capitol. The government was moved to Richmond in 1780 during the administration of Governor Thomas Jefferson, and the General Assembly has met there ever since.

As of April 2015, Virginia is one of 19 states that is under divided government and is therefore not one of the state government trifectas.

See also: Virginia House of Representatives, Virginia State Senate, Virginia Governor


Article IV of the Virginia Constitution establishes when the General Assembly is to be in session. Section 6 of Article IV states that the General Assembly is to convene annually on the second Wednesday in January. In even-numbered years, regular sessions are limited to sixty days. In odd-numbered years, regular sessions are limited to thirty days. Section 6 allows the General Assembly to extend its regular sessions by thirty days if two-thirds of each house vote to extend the session.

Section 6 allows the Governor of Virginia to convene special sessions of the General Assembly. Section 6 also allows for a special session to be called when it is requested by two-thirds of the members of each house.


See also: Dates of 2015 state legislative sessions

In 2015, the Legislature was in session from January 14 through February 28.

Major issues

Major issues facing the Virginia General Assembly in 2015 were job creation and education, the latter being especially important to Republicans according to State Senator Mark Obenshain. Obenshain noted that Democrats were especially focused on gun control issues. But, both parties expressed their desire to work towards improving Virginia's economy.[1]


See also: Dates of 2014 state legislative sessions

In 2014, the General Assembly was in session from January 8 through March 10.

Major issues

Major issues during the 2014 legislative session included expanding Medicaid, a $97 billion spending plan, and raising minimum wage.[2]


See also: Dates of 2013 state legislative sessions

In 2013, the General Assembly was in session from January 9 to February 25.

Major issues

Major issues in the 2013 legislative session included abortion, education, transportation, gun control, and ending a ban on uranium mining.[3]


See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

In 2012, the General Assembly was in regular session from January 11 through March 10.[4]


See also: Dates of 2011 state legislative sessions

In 2011, the Legislature was in regular session from January 12 through February 27. On February 27, a special redistricting session was convened. A reconvened session began on April 6 at 12 p.m. to consider any Governor's amendments and/or vetoes to legislation passed by the General Assembly. This was the only business that could occur during the reconvened session.[5]

A second special session convened June 9 and lasted through July 29. The session was called to elect judges to the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.[6]


See also: Dates of 2010 state legislative sessions

In 2010, the General Assembly was in session from January 13 to March 13.[7]

Role in state budget

See also: Virginia state budget and finances
Virginia on Horizontal-Policypedia logo-color.png
Check out Policypedia articles about policy in your state on:

The state operates on a biennial budget cycle. The sequence of key events in the budget process is as follows:[8][9]

  1. Budget instruction guidelines are sent to state agencies in April and August.
  2. State agency budget requests are submitted in June and October.
  3. Agency hearings are held in September and October.
  4. The governor submits his or her proposed budget to the Virginia General Assembly by December 20.
  5. The General Assembly holds public hearings in January.
  6. The General Assembly adopts a budget in March or April. A simple majority is required to pass a budget.
  7. The biennial budget cycle begins in July.

Virginia is one of 44 states in which the governor has line item veto authority.[9]

Though the governor and General Assembly are not required by law to submit or pass a balanced budget, the Virginia Constitution does require the budget to be balanced before the governor signs it into law.[9]

Cost-benefit analyses

See also: Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative Cost-Benefit Study
Map showing results of the Pew-MacArthur cost-benefit study.

The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative released a report in July 2013 indicating that cost-benefit analysis in policymaking led to more effective uses of public funds. Looking at data from 2008 through 2011, the study's authors found that some states were more likely to use cost-benefit analysis, while others were facing challenges and lagging behind the rest of the nation. The challenges states faced included a lack of time, money and technical skills needed to conduct comprehensive cost-benefit analyses. Virginia was one of the 10 states that used cost-benefit analysis more than the rest of the states with respect to determining return on investment regarding state programs. In addition, these states were more likely to use cost-benefit analysis with respect to large budget areas and when making policy decisions.[10]

Ethics and transparency

Following the Money report

See also: "Following the Money" report, 2014

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer-focused nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., released its annual report on state transparency websites in April 2014. The report, entitled "Following the Money," measured how transparent and accountable state websites are with regard to state government spending.[11] According to the report, Virginia received a grade of B+ and a numerical score of 87, indicating that Virginia was "advancing" in terms of transparency regarding state spending.[11]

Open States Transparency

See also: Open States' Legislative Data Report Card

The Sunlight Foundation released an "Open Legislative Data Report Card" in March 2013. Virginia was given a grade of A in the report. The report card evaluated how adequate, complete and accessible legislative data was to the general public. A total of 10 states received an A: Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.[12]


The Senate of Virginia is the upper house of the Virginia General Assembly. It is composed of 40 Senators and is presided over by the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Prior to Independence, the other part of government was represented by the Governor's Council, a upper house made up of executive counselors appointed by the Governor as advisers. Each member represents an average of 200,026 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[13] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 176,963.[14]

The lieutenant governor, unlike the Vice President of the United States in the United States Senate, presides daily over the Virginia Senate. In the lieutenant governor's absence, a president pro tempore presides, usually a powerful member of the majority party. The Senate is coequal with the House of Delegates, the lower chamber of the legislature, except that taxation bills must originate in the House, just like in the U.S. Congress.

Virginia senators are elected every four years by the voters of the several senatorial districts on the Tuesday succeeding the first Monday in November. The last such election took place on 6 November 2007.

In the 2007 election, the Democratic Party reclaimed the majority in the Senate for the first time since 1999, when the Republican Party took control of the Senate for the first time in history. Following the 2007 election, the Senate will shift from a 23-17 Republican advantage to a 21-19 Democratic advantage.

Party As of April 2015
     Democratic Party 19
     Republican Party 21
Total 40

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Virginia State Senate from 1992-2013.

Partisan composition of the Virginia State Senate.PNG

House of Delegates

The Virginia House of Delegates is the lower house of the Virginia General Assembly. It has 100 members elected for terms of two years; unlike most states, these elections take place during odd-numbered years. Each member represents an average of 80,010 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[15] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 70,785.[16] The House is presided over by the Speaker of the House, who is elected from among the House membership by the Delegates. The Speaker is almost always a member of the majority party and, as Speaker, becomes the most powerful member of the House. The House shares legislative power with the Senate of Virginia, the upper house of the Virginia General Assembly. The House of Delegates is the modern-day successor to the Virginia House of Burgesses. The House is divided into Democratic and Republican caucuses. In addition to the Speaker, there is a majority leader, majority caucus chair, minority leader, minority caucus chair, and the chairs of the several committees of the House. The Virginia House of Delegates is considered the oldest continuous legislative body in the New World, having been formed as the House of Burgesses at Jamestown in 1619.

The House has met in Virginia's Capitol Building, designed by Thomas Jefferson, since 1788. In recent years, the General Assembly members and staff operate from offices in the General Assembly Building, located in Capitol Square.

Republicans took control of the traditionally Democratic House of Delegates for the first time since Reconstruction in 1999 (with the exception of a brief 2 year period in which the Readjuster Party was in the majority in the 1880s). However, the Democrats began making a comeback under the leadership of Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, gaining 6 seats during Warner's term in office (2002-2006), and 1 in a special election at the beginning of Kaine's term.

The current make-up is 53 Republicans, 44 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 1 vacancy.

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Virginia State House from 1992-2013.

Partisan composition of the Virginia State House.PNG


See also: Redistricting in Virginia

The General Assembly handles redistricting through the passage of maps as regular legislation subject to gubernatorial veto.

2010 census

Virginia received its local census data on February 3, 2011. The state grew by 13 percent from 2000 to 2010; its growth mostly occurred in the northeastern part of the state, while declines ranging up to -13.4 percent occurred in counties along the southern and western edges. Loudoun County stood out with an 84.1 percent increase. Growth in the largest cities was less generous: Virginia Beach grew by 3.0 percent, Norfolk grew by 3.6 percent, Chesapeake grew by 11.6 percent, Richmond grew by 3.2 percent and Newport News grew by 0.3 percent.[17]

The Assembly was split going into redistricting; Republicans controlled the House, and Democrats controlled the Senate. The House set a 1% standard for allowance of deviation from the ideal district size (88,900 people), while the Senate passed a 2% standard (200,000 being the ideal size). The Senate and House reached a verbal agreement that the houses would draw their own lines and not interfere with the other's.

The House and Senate approved their maps on April 6 and 7, 2011, respectively. While the House had an overwhelming 86-8 vote, the Senate went along party lines 22-18. Governor Bob McDonnell vetoed the maps on April 15, citing concerns about the increase in the number of divided communities, the Senate plan's higher deviation standard, and the partisan vote in the Senate.

The House quickly returned and passed revisions that rejoined several divided districts; Senate Democrats initially would not budge, but the chamber eventually worked out a compromise (passing on a 32-5 vote) that split Virginia Beach, reduced the number of splits in Prince William County, and split the College of William & Mary from Thomas Norment's district. McDonnell signed the revised plan on April 29, 2011.



See also: Comparison of state legislative salaries

As of 2013, members of the Virginia Legislature are paid $18,000/year in the Senate and $17,640/year in the House. Senators receive $178/day per diem tied to the federal rate and Representatives receive $135/day tied to the federal rate.[18]

When sworn in

See also: When state legislators assume office after a general election

Virginia legislators assume office the second Wednesday in January after the election.

Joint legislative committees

See also: Public policy in Virginia

The Virginia General Assembly has no joint standing committees. However, there are currently over 100 smaller joint commissions.


Partisan balance 1992-2013

Who Runs the States Project
See also: Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States and Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Virginia
Partisan breakdown of the Virginia legislature from 1992-2013

Virginia Senate: From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Virginia State Senate for eight years while the Republicans were the majority for 12 years. Virginia was under Republican trifectas for the final two years of the study.

Across the country, there were 541 Democratic and 517 Republican state senates from 1992 to 2013.

Virginia House of Delegates: From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Virginia State House of Representatives for the first four years while the Republicans were the majority for the last 14 years. Virginia was under Republican trifectas for the final two years of the study.

Across the country, there were 577 Democratic and 483 Republican State Houses of Representatives from 1992 to 2013.

Over the course of the 22-year study, state governments became increasingly more partisan. At the outset of the study period (1992), 18 of the 49 states with partisan legislatures had single-party trifectas and 31 states had divided governments. In 2013, only 13 states had divided governments, while single-party trifectas held sway in 36 states, the most in the 22 years studied.

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Office of the Governor of Virginia, the Virginia State Senate and the Virginia House of Representatives from 1992-2013. Partisan composition of Virginia state government(1992-2013).PNG

SQLI and partisanship

To read the full report on the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI) in PDF form, click here.

The chart below depicts the partisanship of the Virginia state government and the state's SQLI ranking for the years studied. For the SQLI, the states were ranked from 1-50, with 1 being the best and 50 the worst. During the course of the study, Virginia experienced both Democratic and Republican trifectas as well as divided governments. For over half the years of the study, Virginia was ranked in the top-10. This occurred during a Democratic trifecta, Republican trifectas and divided government. Both its highest ranking, finishing 1st in 2006, and its lowest ranking, finishing 26th in 1997, occurred during divided governments.

  • SQLI average with Democratic trifecta: 11.00
  • SQLI average with Republican trifecta: 7.67
  • SQLI average with divided government: 9.00
Chart displaying the partisanship of the Virginia government from 1992-2013 and the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI).

See also

External links


  1. David Sherfinski, Washington Times, "Terry McAuliffe’s 2015 Va. agenda includes economics, health care," January 25, 2015
  2. Daily Press, "Virginia General Assembly opens, lawmakers ease back into action," January 8, 2014
  3. WRIC, "Virginia General Assembly To Convene For 2013 Session," January 9, 2013
  4., "2012 Legislative Session Calendar," accessed April 21, 2015
  5. Virginia General Assembly
  6. Post Local, Va. assembly to vote Friday on Supreme Court, appeals judges, July 29, 2011
  7. 2010 session dates for Virginia legislature
  8. National Conference of State Legislatures, "State Experiences with Annual and Biennial Budgeting," updated April 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 National Association of State Budget Officers, "Budget Processes in the States, Summer 2008," accessed February 21, 2014
  10. Pew Charitable Trusts, "States’ Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis," July 29, 2013
  11. 11.0 11.1 U.S. Public Interest Research Group, "Following the Money 2014 Report," accessed April 15, 2014
  12. Sunlight Foundation, "Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information," accessed June 16, 2013
  13., "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," accessed May 15, 2014
  14. U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population: 2000," April 2, 2001
  15., "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," accessed May 15, 2014
  16. U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population: 2000," April 2, 2001
  17. U.S. Census Bureau, "U.S. Census Bureau Delivers Virginia's 2010 Census Population Totals, Including First Look at Race and Hispanic Origin Data for Legislative Redistricting," February 3, 2011. Retrieved August 21, 2012
  18., "2012 State Legislator Compensation and Per Diem Table," accessed March 18, 2013