The General Assembly Glossary (Or, GA Jargon)

The Virginia General Assembly is a world unto itself. It's a bit difficult to explain unless you experience it, up close, in the trenches, day-in and day-out (and night-in and night-out as many sub-committee meetings start after 5:00). No two days are the same, no two sessions are the same. But one thing does give it continuity, even though the players change from time to time — even with the roughly 40 members of the House of Delegates who have been elected since 2009. It's the GA jargon. That's right. One of the characteristics that make the General Assembly its own universe is its language. Think other countries. Think, even, the bizarre creatures from Star Trek. Designed to sound plain spoken, even innocuous, or in official legislative speak, it is filled with words and phrases to conceal real meaning and intention, shielding the recipient of such parliamentary barbs from public humiliation or their own broken promises.

So, herewith, for the uninitiated, the curious and even those who think they know a little bit about the Western Hemisphere's oldest legislative body, is a glossary of expressions used around Capitol Square by our elected representatives, by members of both chambers, both parties, liberals and conservatives, by committee members to patrons introducing their bills as well as on the floor.

I mean no harm to the bill.

Real meaning: "What the heck do you mean bringing this thing before this committee? YOU don't EVEN know what's in it!

We have peace in the valley.

Real meaning: A bunch of special interest lobbyists got together to amend a bill to ensure that either both sides end up winning at the expense of the entire citizenry of the commonwealth; or, the opposing lobbyists effectively neutralized the effect of the bill while allowing the side that brought the bill to save face with its constituency because, after all, we're all friends, and don't want them to lose the account.

All this bill does . . .

This is a preamble to the introduction of a bill to a committee meant to disguise the fact that it will radically alter the code section it is amending, as in: "Mr. Chairman, all this bill does is make a slight change to the rate we charge on taxable income." You know a freshman is maturing into a regular when he or she masters this seemingly innocuous phrase. When you hear, man your battle stations. (If the patron is honest and the bill really doesn't do much, why do we need it?)

This bill is not ready for prime time.

Real meaning: You really did a HORRIBLE job with this bill! How dare you waste this committee's time with such a piece of junk? Go back to your office and DO NOT return the rest of session! Alternative meaning: How dare you ask me to vote on this and expose who I really am to my constituents?

An amendment in the nature of a substitute.

An admission by the patron of the bill that the original version was drafted so badly that it had to be completely re-introduced. Since that can't be done in the General Assembly, there is a backdoor method of doing so by the patron amending the bill him or herself. Often the committee sees the new draft right before the vote and must t take the patron's word despite previous testimony. Alternative meaning: "I didn't consult with the stakeholders at first (see "We have peace in the valley") and now that I fully understand the issue, this is the bill."

This bill is a solution in search of a problem.

Reaction to a bill by committee members who can't fathom changing whatever the bill is trying change. Alternative meaning: Reaction by committee members suspicious that the patron has statewide ambitions and want to cut him or her down a peg.

Without getting down into the weeds.

Literally, "We really can't be bothered by looking deeply into this bill." However, it doesn't preclude the bill from getting reported — nor preclude those who voted for it from claiming they didn't know what was in it even though they've voted for the same bill for several years.

Can you provide some examples?

Real meaning: We don't believe a word of what you said this bill will do, so think quick or we'll kill it in a heartbeat.

This committee operates on a motion.

The purview only of the committee chairman to say this. Typically, it's a signal that he or she wants a motion either to report the bill or to kill it. Alternative meaning: "No one cares a rip about your bill. You and your bill are so boring, you've put my committee to sleep! Wake up, people, we need a motion!"

Gently lay this bill on the table.

Real meaning: Your bill stinks, but you have a good reputation and we don't want to embarrass you. So, we'll set it aside without an up or down vote. (As opposed to tabling the bill. See, "Not ready for prime time.")

We love what you're trying to do here.

This is the guilt-ridden preface to gently laying the bill on the table. The committee knows the bill is worthy and should be reported but must back off on orders from leadership because they are not quite ready to go on the record for that reform or change.

Go on the board.

A recorded vote. Avoided at all costs!