The General Assembly touches the life of every Virginian. Each winter, 140 men and women gather in Richmond to pass a state budget and enact laws on behalf of the state's 8 million residents.
The General Assembly is currently NOT IN session
If all you want to do is comment or vent, it's easy to tweet, fire off an email or write a letter to your local newspaper. But if you are passionate enough to work for change or to elevate an issue out of legislative obscurity, there are ways to do this without making it a full-time job.Go to top
As an outsider, the General Assembly can seem like an impenetrable fortress. How do you get your voice heard?
Actually, the General Assembly is far more accessible than Congress. It's not unheard of to stop unannounced at your Delegate's or Senator's office and get a few minutes of his or her time. While it's true that the legislative session is extremely hectic and that lawmakers are outnumbered 5:1 by professional lobbyists, a constituent has a special power - the right to vote. So it's best to start with your own representatives; you have two of them, one in the House of Delegates and one in the Senate.
Caveat: Your superpower works only if you are a registered voter. If you have not gotten around to registering (shame on you), don't try to fake it. Some legislators know far more about you than you know about them. Some will have voter files that will not only indicate you are registered to vote but how often you vote.Go to top
If you don't know your legislator, find someone who does. A legislator is more likely to respond favorably with an introduction from someone they know.
Do some basic research, and you may discover you have some connection to your legislators.
Lawmakers' staff is pretty good at filtering out mass-produced communications churned out by interest groups and top-down "grass tops" efforts. You'd be surprised how you can get a legislator's attention with a few genuine constituent letters.
Legislators are so inundated with email during session. As a result, emails sent to a legislator's state-issued email address are usually routed to a Legislative Aide or intern. Unless you have access to a legislator's personal email, the most effective form of written communication can be a throwback, a personal hand-addressed letter sent through the mail.
Most legislators have two mailing addresses, one used during the General Assembly session and one used the rest of the year.
Mailing Address During Session
District Mailing AddressesGo to top
For outsiders, trying to reach your legislator by phone or even stopping by their office can be intimidating. Members are busy, and each office has several levels of gatekeepers. These are all important people. Treat them well.
Before you make a cold call, look up the representative and find the name of his or her Legislative Assistant(s).
When you dial a representative's office, act like they are expecting your call. Say something like, "Is [Legislative Assistant's first name] there? This is [your full name] from [your community or neighborhood within the district]." Say no more. Make it sound like your name and neighborhood speak for themselves. Once you get the Legislative Assistant on the phone, you can take it from there. Don't be defensive or rude. Remember, the Legislative Assistant is your new best friend.Go to top
The most effective way to get things done in the legislature is to join with others who share your particular interest. Start with your neighbors and others in your community. Are there established groups that might be working on the same or similar issues that you could join forces with? Be creative, partners sometimes turn out to be a group with which you have very little in common, but on one specific issue you can find common ground.
VPAP maintains a list of groups that are registered to lobby the General Assembly. Search for Coalition PartnersGo to top
This advice may be too late for this year, but it's always better to contact your legislator several months before the annual General Assembly session begins each January. You are more likely to get an appointment and you will have more time to explain your position or idea. If your representative likes your idea, he or she will need time to submit a bill drafting request before the pre-file deadline in early December.Go to top
Capitol Square is located in downtown Richmond, on a hill overlooking the James River. Google Map
Out-of-towners who travel to Richmond on I-95 or I-64 find that reaching Capitol Square is a relative snap. Thanks to "urban redevelopment" in the 1950s, transportation planners blasted a corridor within blocks of the heart of downtown Richmond. Today, I-64 comes within a mile of the Capitol Building, while I-95 is only five blocks away.
Finding the Capitol is one thing, but finding public parking is another thing altogether. All directions below are to the main public entrance to the Capitol Building. A better strategy might be to set directions to the parking lot/garage options found here.
Richmond is the southern terminus point for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. There are two stations in the Richmond area. Nearly all of the scheduled trains use the Staples Mill Road Station in suburban Henrico County, about eight miles north of the State Capitol. Arrivals and departures from Main Street Station, a seven-block walk uphill to the Capitol, are far less frequent. For timetables, visit amtrak.com or call 1-800-872-7245.
Its location in the heart of downtown Richmond makes Capitol Square reachable from nearly every route on the GRTC system. Fare is $1.50 each way. Note: Many routes have limited or no service on weekends and holidays. Use the GRTC Trip Planner, view the overall system map, or call (804) 358-4782.
Click for a larger version of the parking map
Not so long ago, all of the public buildings on Capitol Square were open to the public. Anyone could come and go as they pleased, without showing an ID or emptying their pockets. After 9/11, public access was drastically restricted. Citizens now need an appointment to enter most state office buildings other than the Capitol Building.
To enter the Capitol Building and the General Assembly Building, members of the public must pass through metal detectors. The screening line can be long at certain times. If you have an appointment or are planning on attending a hearing, it's a good idea to arrive plenty early to give yourself time to clear security.
Under House and Senate rules, the following items are prohibited:
Any device that may disrupt the conduct of business, including but not limited to voice-amplification equipment; bullhorns; blow horns; sirens, or other noise-producing devices; as well as signs on sticks, poles or stakes; or helium-filled balloons.
Despite the metal detectors, firearms are permitted. Members of the public with a valid permit may carry a concealed weapon and anyone is free to open carry a rifle or pistol into the Capitol and General Assembly Building. Those who wish to exercise their Second Amendment rights should be prepared to present a valid state photo ID and/or a concealed weapons permit. Note: The Virginia Senate prohibits firearms of any type in its public gallery.Go to top
Virginia has one of the nation's most compressed legislature sessions, so the pace ranges from rushed to frenzied. Understanding how a typical day unfolds can help you make the most of your time on Capitol Square.
On Capitol Square, there are two options for breakfast and lunch.
More information on these two locations can be found here.
Here are some non-chain restaurants that are within a 5-block radius of Capitol Square:
The main entrance to the General Assembly Building requires navigating a set of steps. There is a wheelchair/handicapped entrance on the 9th Street side of the building.
Getting from the General Assembly Building to the public entrance of the Capitol Building will mean staying on the sidewalk along 9th Street and Bank Street.
Cars with handicapped plates are able to park and unload passengers on Bank Street near the public entrance. There is no public parking on the Capitol Square grounds.Go to top