Thirty years ago, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a prefiling statute to allow members to file bills and resolutions in advance of the session. Sponsors of the legislation hoped that it would greatly facilitate the work of the legislature and ease end-of-session logjams. As reported by the Legislative Process Commission to the 1969 Special Session of the General Assembly, the basic reason for authorizing prefiling was to spread the workload of a regular session by getting legislation printed, circulated, and assigned to committee so that legislators and committees could begin their work as soon as the session convened. In addition to the basic purpose, prefiling was also expected to reduce the unintentional introduction of duplicate bills and enable more extensive research to be conducted on the bills being drafted.
The process for prefiling legislation is virtually identical to the process for introducing legislation. It begins when the member or member-elect makes a request to the Division of Legislative Services to prepare the legislation. The request can be made at any time during the year. Once the drafting is completed, the division sends the member the covered copies of the legislation, which are in the proper form for prefiling. The member then signs the covered copies and delivers them to the appropriate clerk during the prefiling period (which began this year on July 15). After the legislation is prefiled, it is treated practically the same as introduced legislation. The legislation is assigned a number in the order in which it is received, referred to the appropriate committee, and printed and made available to the press and the public. In addition, prefiled legislation is distributed periodically by mail to each member and member-elect.
In the late 1990s, prefiling began to increase slowly as a result of intensified efforts to raise awareness of the prefiling process and its advantages.
Prefiling is a procedural tool to enable legislators to manage the increasing volume and complexity of legislation without compromising the institution of the part-time legislature. On its 30th anniversary, it is clear that prefiling in Virginia has not reached its full potential. Although acceptance is growing, prefiling still has a long way to go to become the cornerstone of the legislative process that its founders had envisioned. For the 2001 Regular Session, the opportunity to meet this challenge and set an all-time record for prefiling began July 15, 2000.