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

  • Previous Session End Date: Feb. 25, 2017
  • Next Session Start Date: Jan. 10, 2018
Who are my legislators?

Making Your Voice Heard

Define Your Goals

Define Your Goals

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.

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Use Your Superpower

Use Your Superpower

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.

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Relationships

Relationships Matter

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.

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Email or Snail Mail

Email or Snail Mail?

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

  • Delegate [Name]
    House of Delegates
    PO Box 406
    Richmond, VA 23218
  • Senator [Name]
    Senate of Virginia
    PO Box 396
    Richmond, VA 23218

District Mailing Addresses

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Past the Gatekeepers

Getting Past the Gatekeepers

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.

  • Secretary: These are part-timers who do not work for the member, but are employees of the House or Senate. They take messages, write letters and do administrative tasks. If you want to make an appointment, they usually will hand you off to the legislative assistant, who keeps the calendar.
  • Intern: These are college students who are used to talk or meet with people seemed sufficiently unimportant to warrant the time of the Legislative Aide or the Member. If you talk with them, they will take notes. Will the Member ever see the notes? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • Legislative Assistant: These are full-time employees of the member who are the ultimate gatekeeper (they also are known as "legislative aides"). They work and live in the district, handle constituent affairs, often work in the campaign and are often trusted advisors. Get to know the Legislative Assistant; he or she is your best friend.

Before you make a cold call, look up the representative and find the name of his or her Legislative Assistant(s).

Legislative Assistant

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.

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Coalition Building

Coalition Building

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 Partners

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Starting Early

Start Early

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.

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Visiting Capitol Square

Getting There

Getting There

Capitol Square is located in downtown Richmond, on a hill overlooking the James River. Google Map

  • By Car:

    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.

    • Interstate 95
      • From the North: Take Exit 74-B. CAUTION: Watch your speed as you exit as the exit ramp is extremely short. At the light at the foot of the ramp, turn right on Bank Street. Go up the hill four blocks, the main public entrance will be on your right at 1000 E. Bank Street.
      • From the South: Take Exit 74-C. At the end of the ramp, merge onto 17th Street. Continue three blocks. At the light, turn right onto Broad Street. Climb a steep hill and turn left on 8th Street. Go two blocks and turn left onto Franklin Street. Continue one block to a T-intersection, Capitol Square will be ahead of you. Turn right on 9th Street and take an immediate left onto Bank Street. After one block, the public entrance to the Capitol Building will be on your left.
    • Interstate 64
      • From the West: At the intersection with I-95 (mile marker 186), follow signs for I-95 South. Take Exit 74-B. CAUTION: Watch your speed as you exit as the exit ramp is extremely short. At the light at the foot of the ramp, turn right on Bank Street. Go up the hill four blocks, the main public entrance will be on your right at 1000 E. Bank Street.
      • From the East: As you approach the intersection with I-95 (mile marker 190), follow the signs for the "5th Street" Exit. Continue on 5th Street for seven blocks. Turn left onto Franklin Street. Continue four blocks to a T-intersection, Capitol Square will be ahead of you. Turn right on 9th Street and take an immediate left onto Bank Street. After one block, the public entrance to the Capitol Building will be on your left.
  • By Train:

    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.

  • By GRTC Bus:

    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.

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Parking

Parking

Capitol Parking Map

Click for a larger version of the parking map

  • #1 Parking garage attached to the Marriott, four blocks from Capitol Square. Early bird special in before 9 AM - only $7 for the day.
  • #2 Parking garage on 7th Street, three blocks from Capitol Square. Early bird special in before 9 AM - only $7 for the day.
  • #3 Surface lot on Grace between 7th and 6th streets, two blocks from Capitol Square. You can't get any closer, but you'll pay for the convenience. Fills up early. $19 for the day.
  • There are other parking lots scattered throughout downtown Richmond. If these lots are all full, you'll should still be able to find parking, it just might be a bit of a hike.

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Security

Security Screening

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.

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Making the Most

Making the Most of Your Day

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.

  • Before Hours: The General Assembly Building comes to life before dawn (except on Mondays). Some subcommittee meetings are often scheduled before 9 AM. Still, the early morning can be one of the best times for unscheduled face time with a legislator or his or her aide.
  • Morning: The mornings are jammed with committee meetings, which are generally held in one of the four first-floor conference rooms of the General Assembly Building.
  • Late Morning: The General Assembly Building starts clearing out shortly after 11, as legislators head to the Capitol Building for the daily Republican and Democratic caucus sessions. The courtyard just outside the main entrance is a good place to catch a brief word with legislators as they make their way to the Capitol.
  • Noon: The House and Senate are gaveled into order at noon on most days. (Exceptions are Friday, when out-of-town legislators are eager to get on the road.) Things are much more quiet in the General Assembly Building so this can be a good time to meet with legislative aides.
  • Afternoon: After the daily floor sessions end (adjournment time varies and can be highly unpredictable), committee and subcommittees resume meeting in the General Assembly Building.
  • Evening: The General Assembly Building clears out around 6 PM as legislators head to one of several receptions around town or a quiet dinner at their hotel.
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Where to Eat

Where to Eat

On Capitol Square, there are two options for breakfast and lunch.

  • 6th Floor Cafeteria (General Assembly Building): There is a daily blue plate special, plus a salad bar and made to order sandwiches. The cafeteria is a great people-watching venue for lobbyists, staff and other hangers-on.
  • Merwether's Cafe (Capitol): Located in the Capitol Extension near the main public entrance. The cafe offers sandwiches, salads, sides and sweet treats. Seating is limited, and the cafe can be very crowded.

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:

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Special Needs

Special Needs

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.

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