Monday, February 7, 2011

So Virginia, who came up with this Crossover thing anyway

I have been following the Virginia General Assembly for years, but mostly to tell when it begins and ends, because it had a particular effect on my job.  One thing that happened every year is something called “Crossover.”  Crossover is the point during the legislative session in which each house may no longer consider its own bills, and may only consider legislation passed by the other house in the General Assembly.  Notice there is no citation for the definition of Crossover.

Doing a web search for “crossover” one finds a few vague references to the date of Crossover, or legislative updates based on Crossover, mostly from years past.  People involved with the general assembly know what Crossover is, know how to identify when it from either the legislative calendar, or by doing math.  Why?  Because crossover is half way through the 45 (odd years) or 60 (even years) day session. 

If you are looking for a definition, a few folks have a decent definition readily understandable to someone vaguely familiar with a general legislative process.  

The Virginia Association of Realtors has a good definition here.
Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance has a definition here.
The best recently published definition I found here.

We know what Crossover day is, but not a soul references its origin.

As with everything in the legal world the idea came from somewhere so I continued my search for the authority behind Crossover day.  Virginia has an online system designed to allow you to review rules, statutes, and legislation from the comfort of your high speed internet connection called the Legislative Information System.  Doing a keyword search for Crossover in the LIS does not result in an explanation of the authority for Crossover. 

Next I went back to the Virginia Constitution.  The Constitution does not reference Crossover, and does not indicate when bills may no longer be considered in one house, and only considered in the other house.  Of interest in the legislative process, the Constitution on the other hand does indicate that to become legislation bills must be referred to and approved by a Committee, and that its title must be read in a daily calendar on three different days.  Constitution Article IV, Section 11.  In other words these items can not be changed by the mere passage of rules.  

I then Checked the Rules of the House of Delegates and the Rules of the Senate.  There is no reference to Crossover, and no reference to a date in which either house may only consider bills form the other house.

Moving on to an entity called Legislative Services, I thought for sure here is the secret repository of information regarding the timing of each session.  Legislative Services is the entity that actually drafts legislation so that it conforms to the rest of the Virginia code, and makes some logical sense when read aloud.  These folks actually do us quite a big favor by taking the actual writing of laws out of the hands of legislators.  I just could not find any authority there either.  But it was hiding.  On the Publications page there is a link to Session Calendars.  Although I had previously clicked on links for Session Calendars on the Legislative Services page before, I tested again.  I had reached the promised land.

The link leads to a page called Session Calendars and Procedural Resolutions.  A link to HJ567 shows us what I have been looking for all along.  Rule 10, approximately three fifths of the way into the rule creates the existence of Crossover.  The word Crossover does not appear anywhere in the rule.  This is nothing more than a rule agreed to by unanimous consent at the beginning of the session.  No doubt Crossover occurs because that is the way the General Assembly has always done business.  There is nothing that requires Crossover to occur in any given year.

What does all this mean: Crossover is a colloquialism utilized by Richmond insiders to refer to a tradition not enshrined in the Virginia Constitution, or even permanent statute.  Moreover, Crossover could be abandoned at any point by the General Assembly and we could have a 45 or 60 day legislative free for all.  Given Crossover is the result of tradition, I doubt the longest sitting representative body in the new world will be abandoning this tradition any time soon.

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