"If you don't believe the dead come back to life, you should be here at quitting time," reads a sign above the counter in Chicken's, the snack bar in the Capitol.
The sign is meant as a joking commentary on the lunch counter's staff, but it also could apply to a legislative sleight of hand that resurrects dead bills.
A beneficiary of life after death this week was an innocuous bill sponsored by Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania) that would force the state highway department to accept a short section of private street at the Spotsylvania Mall as part of the state's secondary road system.
Houck, a low-key, first-term legislator who is assistant principal of Courtland High School except for the two months the General Assembly is in session, briefly explained the bill on the Senate floor Monday. When the roll was called, there were 22 votes for it, 12 against it and five abstentions.
But because the bill was considered special legislation, it needed a two-thirds majority, or 27 votes, for passage, so Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who presides over the Senate, announced the bill had failed.
After the vote, a disappointed Houck was consoled by his deskmates, Sens. J. Granger Macfarlane (D-Roanoke) and Johnny S. Joannou (D-Portsmouth), who had voted for the bill.
They said they would help him round up the extra five votes if he could get the bill reconsidered. To do that, Houck needed to persuade someone who had voted on the prevailing side -- against it -- to call for reconsideration.
So Houck strolled across the chamber to the desk of the senator from a neighboring district, Elmo G. Cross Jr. (D-Hanover), and persuaded Cross to make the motion.
But Houck didn't really want the bill reconsidered, not at that moment, because he still didn't have the votes needed for passage. So following the almost automatic approval of Cross' motion, Houck dipped into the legislative bag of tricks for another motion, that the bill "pass by for the day."
The next morning, the first item on the Senate's agenda was S.B. 294, described in the practiced monotone of Senate clerk Jay Shropshire as "a bill to take a certain road in Spotsylvania County into the state secondary system of highways."
Without a moment's discussion, Wilder called for a vote on the measure, each senator punched a green (aye) or red (nay) button on his desk, and the electronic bulletin board tallied the vote.
"Ayes 28, Nays 8," Shropshire intoned.
Macfarlane gave Houck's knee a congratulatory slap, Houck discreetly nodded in the direction of Cross and the five other senators who had changed their votes.
"Having received the necessary votes, the bill is passed," declared Wilder, cracking his gavel on another moment in Virginia history that is not likely to be recorded in the civics books, not even those at Courtland High.