- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More than a month before legislators gather in Richmond to open the General Assembly, they’re already starting to legislate.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall is listed as pre-filing seven bills, but that could be the tip of the iceberg. With the next session being held in an even-numbered year, delegates have no restrictions on the number of bills they can pre-file before the session starts.

In 2008, delegates were allowed to introduce just 15 bills - either before or during this year’s session. The cap was meant to streamline the legislative process, and it appears to have worked. Legislative Services, the assembly’s in-house bill writer, reported that the number of bills requested dropped from 2007 to 2009 by about 500.

But delegates in the 2010 session don’t face the limitations, so while crafting a biennial budget and considering proposals by incoming Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, lawmakers also will take on a gamut of other proposals.

Mr. Marshall, Manassas Republican, said the most important bill he’s filed is in response to President Obama’s health care plan and was the product of constituent requests.

On Dec. 7, he pre-filed House Bill 10, the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act. If passed, the legislation would mandate, among other things, that “no law shall restrict a person’s natural right and power of contract to secure the blessings of liberty to choose private health care systems or private plans.”

During the past election campaign, Mr. Marshall said, the No. 1 topic when he went door to door was the president’s health care proposal.

“I’m getting a lot of people very concerned about the Obamacare thing,” Mr. Marshall said.

In fact, nearly every bill he files “had origins somehow in a constituent calling this to my attention,” he said. “I’ll put in bills that probably have a low-level likelihood of passing, but if I make a promise to someone, I’ll put it in so my colleagues can vote on it.”

The reason for pre-filing a bill is simply to raise awareness and get people lobbying on behalf of his legislative proposals, Mr. Marshall said.

This year, the deadline to ask Legislative Services to draft a bill for pre-filing was Dec. 7. Once Legislative Services writes the bill, it gets sent back to the delegate who requested it, to be signed and submitted.

Once the delegate has requested that a bill be written, he or she must then submit it by 10 a.m. on the day the General Assembly convenes or it counts in even years as one of five bills the delegate is allowed to introduce during the session.

All that is laid out in House Joint Resolution 9, the “General Assembly; 2010 Session schedule” that was pre-filed by House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith. Mr. Griffith, a Republican, also introduced a bill governing the pre-filing of bills for the 2011 General Assembly session.

On Monday, the General Assembly’s Web site listed 52 bills that have completed the process and have been filed with the clerk’s office for consideration during the 2010 session.

They cover everything from commending an outstanding high school basketball player to providing a wrongly convicted man with financial compensation.

Of the 21 lawmakers who have filed bills, four are Democrats.

Members can submit as many bills of commendation as they please. Several of the bills recognize either individual basketball players or basketball teams.

Delegate Brenda Pogge, York Republican, has filed four bills of commendation and has six others that are being drafted.

When filing bills, a delegate has to be aware, she said. During her first session, she only offered 10 bills. Often, freshmen lawmakers dont know the deadlines, so they offer no bills.

That might be a good thing for someone just learning the ropes.

“We have to go speak to all those bills and defend them in committee and subcommittee and on the House floor,” she said.

Senators can submit an unlimited number of bills by the pre-filing deadline and eight bills thereafter.

Sen. Ralph K. Smith, Roanoke Republican, said he has pre-filed several bills because there are more issues that he wants to address this year.

The senator said the goal with his bills is to make sure “the commonwealth is a better place when I come out of it because I was there.”

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