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Virginia Resources

This State Guide provides an in-depth look at sources of law in Virginia.


The Virginia General Assembly, Virginia's legislative body, claims to be the "oldest continuous law-making body in the New World." The General Assembly's chief responsibilities are to represent citizens in the formulation of public policy, enact laws of the Commonwealth, approve the budget, levy taxes, elect judges and confirm appointments by the Governor. The General Assembly is a bicameral legislature, and consists of the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia. The House of Delegates has 90 to 100 members, and the Senate has 33 to 40 members, all of whom are elected by qualified voters within their respective House and Senate districts. The terms of office are two years for members of the House and four years for members of the Senate. There is no limit to the number of terms that can be served.

Legislative Process

Legislative Sessions

Legislative sessions convene on the second Wednesday in January each year. In even-numbered years, the session length is 60 days; in odd-numbered years it is 30 days. The session may be extended by a 2/3 majority vote in both houses. Both the governor and the General Assembly (with 2/3 majority vote in both houses) can call for a special session. The General Assembly reconvenes six weeks after adjournment to consider the Governor's actions on bills.

Introduction of Bills

A Delegate or Senator presents an idea for a bill to the Division of Legislative Services, which checks existing law and the constitutionality of the proposal, drafts the bill, and gives it to the member for introduction. The bill is signed by the patron, introduced, and printed. In the House of Delegates, the Clerk assigns a number for each bill and sends the legislation to the Speaker of the House. The Speaker refers the bill to a committee. In the Senate, the bill is assigned a number by the Clerk, who refers it to a committee.

Committee Stage

Once the bill is referred to the appropriate committee, the committee members consider the bill and decide what action to take. Any citizen of the Commonwealth has the right to attend a committee meeting and speak about legislation. After the committee hears the patron and any other witnesses, the committee has several options when the chairman calls for a vote:

  1. Report: The majority of the committee approves of the bill and it is reported to the floor or referred to another committee.
  2. Pass by Indefinitely (PBI): This action allows the committee to reconsider the legislation prior to the deadline established by the procedural resolution that sets the schedule for consideration of bills.
  3. Defeat: The committee rejects a motion to report the bill, and there is no further action by the committee.
  4. Continue/Carry Over: A bill introduced in an even-numbered year session may be continued or carried over to an odd-numbered year session for further action or study during the interim. A carry-over bill retains its assigned bill number in the odd-numbered year session. A bill may not be continued or carried over from an odd-numbered year session to an even-numbered year session.
  5. Pass by for the day: The committee is not ready to act on the bill. If the bill is not taken up before the deadline, then it is considered Left in Committee or No Action Taken.
  6. No Action or Left in Committee: No motion is made on the bill and it dies at the time of the committee action deadline.
  7. Incorporate into other Legislation: The bill is incorporated, or included into another bill through an amendment or a substitute. The bill may have similar language or duplicate language with the same intent.


For bills that are reported to the floor, the title of each bill must be read three times or appear in the printed Calendar on three different days. Legislation reported from the Committees appears on the Calendar under the category of Senate Bills on First Reading in the Senate, House Bills on First Reading in the House of Delegates, etc. The second reading is referred to as the "amendable state," and committee amendments, floor amendments and floor substitutes are considered. The legislators vote on any amendments or substitutes, and then on whether to engross the bill and send it to its third reading. Engrossing means incorporating any amendment(s) which may have been adopted by the body. If a bill fails to be engrossed and advanced to its third reading, the bill is defeated. Upon passage of legislation, bills and the action taken regarding them are communicated to the other body.

Bicameral Procedures

Each body of the General Assembly is required to pass legislation in exactly the same form before it can be sent to the Governor to become law. House legislation, when first received by the Senate after passage in the House of Delegates, receives its first reading and is referred to the appropriate Senate committee. Likewise, Senate legislation, when received by the House of Delegates after passage in the Senate, receives its first reading and is referred to the appropriate House committee. Legislation of the other body, i.e. House bills in the Senate or Senate bills in the House of Delegates, is not considered amendable on second reading. This legislation, having been reported from a committee, is listed in the Calendar the next day. Committee amendments are not shown in the Calendar until the legislation is on its third reading. Debate on amendment(s) to legislation of the other body takes place on third reading.

If the other body passes the bill without amendment(s), it is enrolled (passed by both houses in the same form) and communicated to the Governor. If a Senate bill is passed by the House of Delegates with amendment(s) or with a substitute, the bill and the changes must be communicated to the Senate, so that the Senate will be in a position to consider the changes proposed by the House. If the Senate agrees to the changes proposed by the House, the bill, with the changes, is enrolled and sent to the Governor. If the Senate does not agree to the changes, a Committee of Conference may be formed to resolve the differences between the House and the Senate. If a Committee of Conference is not formed, the bill fails to pass. Each Committee of Conference consists of an equal number of Senators and Delegates. If an agreement is reached, the terms of the agreement are reported to each body. If each house agrees to the report, the changes agreed to in the Committee of Conference are incorporated into the bill and the "compromise" bill is enrolled [definition: a bill that has been passed by both houses] and sent to the Governor. If the Committee of Conference cannot agree or the report is rejected by either body, the bill dies.


For any bill presented, the Governor may sign, veto, or offer amendments. The Governor may also veto one or more items if the bill is an appropriation bill. If the Governor does not act on a bill, it becomes law without his signature in seven days. If there are fewer than seven days remaining in the General Assembly session, or if the General Assembly has adjourned, the Governor has thirty days after adjournment to act on bills. If the Governor recommends amendments to or vetoes a bill, and the General Assembly is still in session, the General Assembly can consider the Governor's action. The General Assembly can override the Governor's veto with a two-third majority vote from both houses.