The rules package presented Thursday was a day late and highly anticipated, given that Democrats could have used it to ban guns from the House chamber or to stack committees in their favor.
As it turned out, the rules took only an incremental step toward a potential firearms ban. And they afforded Republicans proportional representation on all but one committee, as was the case when the GOP was in charge.
But that’s not what Majority Leader Charniele L. Herring (D-Alexandria) led with as she unveiled the written rules on the floor.
“First,” she began, “the pronouns are in the feminine gender.”
That’s true for rules applying to Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax). (Such as, “She will immediately call the House to order.”) And for those applicable to the house clerk, another post assumed for the first time Wednesday by a woman, Suzette Denslow. (“She will keep a journal of the proceedings of the House . . .”)
Yet it’s also true for rules applying to the sergeant at arms, a job held by a man, Jay Pearson. (“She will attend to the display of the Mace during sessions of the House and direct all persons not entitled to privileges on the floor of the House to the gallery.”)
And for rules aimed at every delegate in the House, where women occupy a record 29 seats but still remain greatly outnumbered in a body of 100. (“No member will absent herself from the service of the House unless she has leave granted by the Speaker or is sick or otherwise unable to attend.”)
“We have updated the language of the House to reflect a Commonwealth that is open and welcoming to everyone,” Filler-Corn said later. “For hundreds of years, the assumption was that male pronouns would cover everyone. Another step forward for Virginia.”
That’s quite a change for a 401-year-old body so tradition-bound that Pearson, the white-gloved sergeant at arms, kicks off each daily session by reverently carrying an ornate gold mace into the chamber.
The House parted with its practice of addressing delegates as “gentleman” and “gentlewoman” just two years ago, under Filler-Corn’s Republican predecessor, as Virginia’s first openly transgender legislator was preparing to take her seat.
Republicans made no remarks on Thursday’s pronoun change from the floor, although they pushed back on other aspects of the rules. They also declined to comment about the pronouns afterward.
One male Democrat said the change seemed fair.
“For years and years and years, female members have just had to sort of accept that ‘he’ and ‘him’ applies to them also,” said Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax). “I think for a change, we male delegates are going to have to accept the fact that when the rule says … ‘her, she’ — ‘Well, I guess hopefully that includes me, too.’ ”
The rules passed on a party-line vote, 55-45. Republicans’ chief objection centered on a rule that would allow the House Committee on Rules to unilaterally set firearms policy for the chamber, as well as other House-controlled parts of the Capitol and the adjacent Pocahontas Building.
The Rules Committee is the lone panel that is heavily stacked against the GOP — with 13 Democrats and five Republicans. Whatever it decides on firearms policy will take effect without a vote from the full House.
Currently, legislators are allowed to bring firearms onto the floor of the House and Senate. Visitors with concealed carry permits may bring guns into the Capitol and into the House gallery, although the Senate bans guns from its gallery.
The rules approved Thursday also empower the Rules Committee to set policies on sexual harassment training.
House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said Democrats undermined “centuries of precedent” by empowering the committee to make those decisions without review by the full chamber.
“Ceding the authority of the entire House of Delegates to a single committee is as troubling as it is confusing,” Gilbert said. “These rules do more than deprive Republicans of a vote on policy: They deprive the vast majority of the Democratic caucus of the same opportunity.”