Something interesting happened on Richmond Sunlight last week—three bills were listed here that weren’t listed on the legislature’s website. SB704, SB705, and SB706 were all displayed on Richmond Sunlight, all filed by Sen. Tom Garrett (R-Lynchburg), but the legislature’s website listed completely different bills under those same numbers. The bills on Richmond Sunlight were as follows:
Electric utilities; advanced meters. (SB704)
Prohibits any electric utility from installing an advanced meter on a customer’s premises or requiring a customer to use any advanced meter unless the customer has requested it. An advanced meter is a meter that is capable of measuring, recording, storing, and reporting usage according to predetermined time criteria and that allows two-way communications suited for demand-response programs. Electric utilities are also required to uninstall an advanced meter at a customer’s request; prohibited from giving any meter use data from an advanced meter to any person other than the electric utility; prohibited from shutting off service to a customer based on the amount of electricity the customer uses or the customer not having or using an advanced meter; prohibited from imposing any disincentive on a customer for not agreeing to the installation or use of an advanced meter; prohibited from obtaining data from an advanced meter more than once per month unless requested by a customer; and required to notify customers in writing that the installation and use of an advanced meter is not mandated by state law and is not permitted without the customer’s request. The measure also repeals an existing provision that prohibits an investor-owned electric utility participating in an energy efficiency program from connecting advanced metering technology and equipment on the customer’s side of the interconnection without the customer’s express consent.
Hunting nuisance species. (SB705)
Makes it lawful to hunt or kill nuisance species on Sunday. Among the species that could be hunted on Sunday are blackbirds, coyotes, crows, cowbirds, feral swine, grackles, English sparrows, starlings, and those species designated as nuisance species by regulations of the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Transportation of loaded rifles or shotguns; exemption. (SB706)
Provides an exemption for persons having a concealed handgun permit from local ordinances that prohibit carrying or transporting a loaded rifle or shotgun in a vehicle on public highways or roads.
So what was going on?
The simplest explanation was that these bills had been filed and then un-filed, but I didn’t see how that was possible. If the patron had pulled the bills, they’d still be listed, and their numbers certainly wouldn’t be reassigned. At a dead-end, I contacted Senate Clerk Susan Schaar (who, like the rest of the staff at the General Assembly, has been wonderfully, crucially helpful to Richmond Sunlight over the years) and asked her what was going on. She explained that, in fact, they had been un-filed, though under extraordinary circumstances.
They’re moving to a new electronic bill filing system—legislators no longer need to submit bills on paper, and now can do it via computer. A new legislative assistant inadvertently hit a poorly labelled button, and accidentally introduced three pieces of legislation. Schaar authorized pulling the bills, since they was never really properly introduced in the first place, as only a legislator has the administrative power to do that.
In the brief time that the trio of bills existed on the legislature’s website, Richmond Sunlight dutifully captured and displayed all of the information about them. When they were pulled and replaced with new, unrelated bills with the same numbers, the site updated all of that information appropriately, but kept the tags and comments, resulting in a trio of very confusing, utterly unrelated comments and wildly inappropriate tags. With no other course of action available, I deleted the comments (one of which I had written) and replaced the tags, leaving no sign that the inadvertently filed bills had ever existed. Though I’m still not sure that’s the best thing to have done, I don’t know of a better approach. Hopefully this is an edge case that won’t soon be repeated, because the site’s data structure wasn’t built to handle disappearing bills.
(A tip to Sen. Garrett: if you’re going to file “Hunting nuisance species,” you’ll need modify it so that it complies with federal law. Grackles, blackbirds, and crows are protected under the Migratory Bird and Game Mammal Treaty with Mexico, which limits hunting each of these birds to just 124 days a year. This bill would raise the limit to about 140 days, more than is allowed under federal law.)