In the 2006 General Assembly, the Republican majority made a substantive rule change that allowed for House bills to be killed in subcommittee where votes are not recorded. Before that, a bill could only be voted down before a full session where the vote is recorded. That year, 459 bills were quashed in subcommittee, and the following year 603 died there, including a Democratic proposal for a statewide smoking ban in restaurants and bars. As it was voted down in subcommittee, the public had no say in its determination.
"The way the rules were changed so that bills can be killed in the dead of the night is not right," says Delegate David Toscano.
This year, the still-Democratic minority tried to attack this disparity with a two-fisted approach. Delegate Ken Plum (D-Reston) introduced a rule that would have required subcommittees to record votes and House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D-Henry) also introduced a rule that would have required the House to provide the live broadcast of the session to the public.
House Republicans were not fooled and shot both of them down along a straight party line vote. “That’s not the way to ensure accountability,” says Delegate David Toscano (D-Charlottesville), who says he once had a bill referred to a subcommittee that never even met. “The way the rules were changed so that bills can be killed in the dead of night is not right.”
“Transparency in government works best,” says State Senator Creigh Deeds. Unlike the House, the Senate records subcommittee votes, although Senate bills cannot be killed in subcommittee anyway. “If you’re making a binding vote, you shouldn’t be afraid to reveal it.”
“They don’t want to record it because they fear a backlash from their constituents,” says Jan Cornell, president of Staff Union at UVA.
“They should have the courage of their convictions to tell people how they voted,” says Deeds in chastising the Republicans. “I applaud the House Democrats for their attempt.”
However, House Democrats aren’t always up for having votes on the record. On January 24, House Republicans forced a vote on a bill that would have given state employees the right to unionize, according to The Washington Post. House leaders bypassed several committees without any testimony or debate and wouldn’t honor a request from the bill’s patron to withdraw it, in order to get a vote on the record that could be used against Democrats in later elections. All but two Democrats abstained from voting.
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