Transparency Virginia’s 2020 annual report on legislative transparency. Click the image or the link above.
On Dec. 10, 2019, Transparency Virginia sent a letter to the newly elected Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, as well as to the majority and minority leaders in both chambers and the chairs of all House and Senate standing committees. In it, TVa encouraged everyone to hold steady on the improvements to transparency made in the General Assembly since TVa’s first report in 2015. To do this, TVa specifically called for:
- live-streaming of subcommittees;
- making Senate floor session and committee meetings searchable;
- adopting a unified meeting notification system;
- posting substitute bills to the LIS in a timely fashion; and
- acting on all bills instead of leaving some in committee.
Transparency Virginia’s 2019 annual report on legislative transparency. Click the image or the link below.
Transparency Virginia asked all candidates for the House of Delegates (incumbents and challengers) a question: Would you support amending the House rules to require a recorded vote (by name) for motions to table (defeat) bills in committee and subcommittee?
Below are the names of those who responded “YES,” followed by the district they are seeking to represent. Those names in bold won their election.
- Steve McBride — 8th
- Chris Hurst — 12th
- Bob Marshall – 13th
- Djuna Osborne — 17th
- Will King — 18th
- Dickie Bell — 20th
- Michele Edwards — 20th
- Will Hammer — 20th
- Ben Cline — 24th
- John Winfrey — 24th
- Angela Lynn — 25th
- Larry Barnett — 27th
- Joshua Cole — 28th
- Nathan Larson — 31st
- David Bulova — 37th
- Kaye Kory — 38th
- Vivian Watts — 39th
- Al Durante — 54th
- Morgan Goodman — 55th
- Marcus Sutphin — 59th
- Betsy Carr — 69th
- Jeff Staples — 77th
- David Rose-Carmack — 83rd
- Terry Hurst — 89th
- Jerrauld “Jay” Jones — 89th
- Jeion Ward — 92nd
- Michael Bartley — 94th
- Sheila Crowley — 98th
- Willie Randall — 100th
This survey was sent to all 173 candidates for the House of Delegates, using the email addresses they have provided to the State Board of Elections, on Oct. 12, 2017, and again on Oct. 16, Oct. 24 and Oct. 31.
20 January 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Transparency Virginia, a collection of lobbyists and advocates monitoring transparency in the General Assembly, will again this 2017 legislative session be monitoring the three areas of legislative accountability that first brought the group together in 2014.
First, TVa monitors the notice that is given for subcommittee and committee meetings so that citizens and advocates may observe or participate in them. Second, TVa also believes that all bills should receive consideration by a committee or subcommittee. Finally, TVa believes that all votes on bills should be recorded by name, not just by an up or down voice vote.
TVa members have endorsed HB1677, brought by Del. Ben Cline (R-Amherst), which would codify these second two points above: The bill would require all legislation in both the House and Senate “to be considered by the committee of purview or a subcommittee thereof and receive a recorded vote.”
Passage of HB1677 would complement the committee notification system implemented in the House of Delegates last year by Speaker of the House William Howell. The notice system greatly improved the ability of citizens, the press, lobbyists and advocates to follow when bills they care about are being discussed and voted on in the House committees and subcommittees.
Though outside TVa’s three main areas, TVa also supports a measure announced by the Speaker this year to archive video recordings of House floor sessions on the House livestreaming website (http://virginia-house.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3). Video access enhances the public’s ability to monitor their elected officials in action and ascertain their positions on bills.
The meeting notice improvements and the video archives are improvements made since TVa’s formation and have brought Virginia government closer to the public.
TVa applauds the Speaker’s actions and encourages the Senate to make similar efforts.
Questions about TVa’s past and current work can be directed Megan Rhyne at 540-353-8264.
Transparency Virginia’s 2016 post-legislative review. Click here or click the image below to open the PDF.
Please note that the article websites may have limits on how long the links stay live, and may require subscriptions or registrations. Transparency Virginia apologizes for any inconvenience.
Report: Virginia lawmakers block transparency, access to legislative process
In February, Delegate Jeffrey Campbell tried to revise Virginia’s “reckless” driving threshold so motorists couldn’t be criminalized for driving six miles over the speed limit on I-95. His bill never made it out of the Courts of Justice Committee. Like so many others, the Marion Republican’s measure was “left in committee,” where bills that lawmakers just don’t want to risk an up-or-down vote go to die, with no recorded tally. That way, constituents who couldn’t make the middle-of-the-day meeting in Richmond have no clue where their lawmakers stand on that bill or hundreds of others. It might be one thing if that was a rare occurrence. But a new report from Transparency Virginia backs up what anyone who’s spent time in the General Assembly knows well — both parties and chambers are rife with practices that thwart transparency and accountability in the legislative process.
Read more @ VirginiaWatchdog.org
Lack of Virginia’s General Assembly openness is criticized
Virginia’s lax ethics laws mean it can be tough to watch for officials’ conflicts of interest, but the job is even tougher with the General Assembly’s tendency to kill bills without recording how legislators vote. On top of that, General Assembly committees and subcommittees that are supposed to hear public views on legislation often give little notice of their meetings and agendas, and frequently block any public comment, according to a study of this year’s legislative action by Transparency Virginia, a coalition of citizen groups. The coalition released its report Tuesday. “People are being left in the dark,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and author of the Transparency Virginia report. (Marisa Porto, the vice president of content for the Daily Press, is on the Coalition for Open Government’s board of directors.)
Read more @ Daily Press
Editorial: Report faults Virginia House of Delegates on transparency
Have the members of the Virginia House of Delegates forgotten whom they work for? Read the rest of this entry »
The following statement was given by Megan Rhyne at the April 14 news conference where Transparency Virginia’s report was released. Rhyne is executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and the report’s principal author.
It is tempting for each of us in this room to take for granted the ways of the General Assembly. Year in and year out, as lobbyists, advocates, media, staff or lawmakers, we all gradually figure out how the process works and how it doesn’t work.
We know how to look up committee meeting times, we know how to look up legislation, we know how to act and what to expect in a committee meetings. We know what the motions mean. We know how to approach the secretaries, the legislative aids, the staff attorneys. And we always remember to preface our committee testimony by thanking the chair and the committee members.
We know these things because it is our job to know. We figure it out through being here, by observing, asking, and learning from others.
But are we in this room and elsewhere in the General Assembly and Capitol buildings today, are we the only ones who care about what happens here? Are we the only ones who have a stake in the outcome of proposed legislation? Are WE the only ones who want to know how well our elected officials have performed the jobs we elected them to do?
The answer is clearly no.
Yet, for any member of the public or press who is not intimately familiar with the legislative process, following or participating in that process is so difficult as to be nearly impossible. For example, when seasoned lobbyists are chastised for not following unwritten rules for opposing a bill, imagine what a citizen faces when trying to participate in person.
When engaged observers are physically present in the committee room and yet still cannot completely pick out which members of a 22-person committee shouted out aye or nay, imagine a citizen’s confusion back home when the disposition of a bill is listed online only as “subcommittee recommends laying on the table by voice vote.”
The system is set up for those on the inside, yet even many professionals are frequently left in the dark. Where decisions about state and local laws that directly and indirectly affect each and every one of us are made, the short sessions and the rapid-fire scheduling of committee meetings undermine participation by and accountability to the citizens of Virginia.
It is with this backdrop that Transparency Virginia formed in December of 2014 and today releases its report documenting the murky practices frequently seen in the Virginia General Assembly.
We are a loosely formed coalition of non-profit advocacy groups and individual lobbyists and advocates. We met in early January to identify the three practices we would take special note of during the session:
notice of meetings
the consideration of bills AND
recorded votes on bills
We chose these three areas because citizens would have little trouble understanding the fundamental role of each in the overall legislative process.
Many of Transparency Virginia’s findings are disturbing. Bills were introduced but then left in committees without ever being added to an agenda much less given a hearing. Bills were defeated by unrecorded voice votes, allowing some lawmakers to avoid responsibility and disallowing others from making their position known. Meetings were called with notice so short as to make it virtually impossible for anyone other than the committee members to attend.
These practices paint a stark reality: A body that prides itself on being a citizen legislature is too often a legislature that is NOT for the citizens.
It must be stated clearly and emphatically, though, that this report is not a condemnation of any one person or any one party.
Though Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate, it would be as much of a mistake to say, “This is a Republican problem,” as it would be to say, “This is an attack on Republicans.”
The sad truth is that these are systemic problems. Problems that have developed over time, over parties and over party leaders.
To anyone who would reduce this to a partisan issue, I would make the following two points:
First, as the report mentions, there are committee and subcommittee chairs who do the right thing and committees that operate openly. All of these committees are chaired by Republicans.
Second, a committee is more than its chair. Every committee is made up of members of both parties. And any member of either party can make a motion or a substitute motion that is or is not in the spirit of transparency. The data Transparency Virginia analyzed shows only how the committee or subcommittee voted as a whole, not which individual made the motion.
Further, any legislator of either party can speak out about opaque practices before, during and after committee meetings. No one from either party is gagged from advocating for transparency.
Transparency takes collective will and collective action. It can’t take place in a vacuum where lawmakers tell the public only how much they want to let them know, or where the public gets to demand that every detail be laid bare.
The aim of this report, and indeed for Transparency Virginia, then, is to facilitate a conversation about what makes better open government practices. What can we do to help citizens get and stay informed? What can we do to make participation easier?
We don’t have all of the answers.
It is our hope, instead, that our elected officials today and whoever they might be tomorrow take the public’s right to know seriously. They should work with their constituents and others to develop policies and procedures that work to the public’s benefit. And they should make it a priority to put those policies and procedures into practice.
This is what is best for us all. This is what makes us a Common-wealth. This is what makes us Virginians.