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Dance Proposes Legislation on Constituents’ Behalf

January 27, 2012

Delegate Rosalyn Dance in her office at the General Assembly Building, Richmond, VA. (CNS photo by Ryan Murphy)
















By Ryan Murphy
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Nearly 7.9 million people live in Virginia, but only 140 fill the seats of the General Assembly and can vote on what becomes law and what does not.

You’d have a better chance of winning a $1 million Power Ball prize than become a state legislator in Virginia. So it’s easy to see how a delegate or senator could become detached from the public.

Delegate Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg says she views her role not as one of the select few who decide what’s best for Virginia, but simply as a courier, delivering her constituents’ wishes to the powers that be.

“We are 140 horses here – 40 in the Senate and 100 in the House. The only people that can carry … the legislation are the 140 of us,” Dance said. “We’re charged by the people of the commonwealth to carry these bills.”

The delegate’s office was flooded with calls after the much-publicized Casey Anthony murder trial last summer in Florida.

Constituents pleaded with Dance, 64, to put something on the books in response to the trial. So she worked to craft House Bill 494, which would make it a Class 6 felony to fail to report the death of a child within an hour of discovery.

Dance said she does her best to represent the voices in her district, even when presented with a contentious issue.

For instance, at the request of former Dinwiddie County Supervisor John Talmage, Dance has introduced HB 497, which would ban the use of handheld electronic communication devices while driving.

The General Assembly has rejected such legislation twice before. But other officials say it’s needed: In December, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended laws to curb phoning and texting while driving.

“I’m dug in, and as long as the constituents say, ‘Take that bill up,’ I’m going to take that bill up and see what we can do with it,” Dance said. “If the patron says, ‘Let’s try it again,’ we try it again.”

Getting a bill passed can be an uphill battle – especially for a Democrat like Dance in a legislative chamber dominated by Republicans. Dance, who serves as the vice chair of operations and policy for the House Minority Caucus, doesn’t let that deter her.

While she fields requests from constituents and puts them up for debate, Dance doesn’t claim to have all the answers. The four-term delegate says that collaboration is key – in creating a bill that those affected can live with and satisfying the concerns of the other legislators.

“I’m not a lawyer, but it’s a point of ‘I want the bill there,’ so I get the bill introduced in front of them. And if there’s problems with it, it gets worked on,” Dance said.

Some of the legislation Dance has introduced this session has already run into roadblocks, such as HB 504, which called for anti-bullying training for public school personnel. The Virginia Educational Association, superintendents and representatives from school boards around the state noted that student surveys the bill would mandate could cut into instructional time.

Last week, HB 504 failed on a 4-4 vote in a subcommittee of the House Education Committee. But Dance still hopes to pursue the idea.

“You have to be willing to compromise, not take it personal, just be invested in getting a product that’s good for Virginia,” Dance said.

About Delegate Dance
Name: Rosalyn “Roz” Dance
Born: Feb. 10, 1948, in Chesterfield County
Education: John Tyler Community College (associate’s degree, nursing, 1975); Virginia State University (bachelor’s degree, nursing, 1986); Virginia Commonwealth University (master’s in public administration, 1994)
Profession: Health care administrator and registered nurse (retired)
House District: 63rd, which includes Petersburg; part of Hopewell; and parts of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie and Prince George counties
Delegate since: April 6, 2005