Most House bills die on unrecorded votes

During the recently concluded legislative session, three bills to increase the minimum wage in Virginia died in the House Labor and Commerce Committee. Want to know who voted for or against the measures? Sorry; the votes went unrecorded.

A bill requiring transgender people to use the restroom for the sex on their birth certificate died in the House General Laws Committee. Want to know who voted for or against it? No luck; those votes weren’t recorded, either.

A bill prohibiting politicians from converting their campaign funds for personal use died in the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Want to know who voted for or against it? Forget it; that bill was killed on an unrecorded voice vote, too.

Of the 571 House bills that failed during the session, more than two-thirds were anonymously killed on voice votes in subcommittees that went unrecorded, according to data from the Legislative Information System, the General Assembly’s official recordkeeping arm. Proponents of open government say the lack of transparency muddies the waters of Virginia’s democracy.

“For a final disposition on a vote, it is crucial they be recorded,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

People elect their representatives based on how politicians stand on issues vital to voters’ interests, Rhyne said. If they can’t see how public officials have voted on an issue, citizens can’t accurately choose their representatives, she added.

Delegates have said in the past that using voice votes keeps the legislative process moving quickly and lessens the burden on lawmakers.

Rhyne disputed that notion. “I really don’t see that with electronic voting measures and small committees,” she said. “It doesn’t hold water.”

Unlike the House, votes by Senate panels are generally recorded.

LIS data showed that 1,086 bills were filed by members of the House for consideration during the legislative session that ran from Jan. 11 through Feb. 25. Of the total, 515 bills passed and 571 failed. Of the failed bills, 390 died on unrecorded voice votes, according to LIS data.

In addition, at least 20 other House bills were simply ignored this session. These measures were assigned to committees, but the panels did not hold hearings on them. As a result, the bills were left in their committees without a vote.

They included a bill to repeal Virginia’s legal prohibitions against same sex-marriage (because they are no longer valid in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling), as well as bills to expand and to restrict abortion rights.

Republican Del. Benjamin Cline of Rockbridge introduced a bill during this session that would have required every bill, budget amendment and resolution to receive a recorded vote. It died in the House Rules Committee – on an unrecorded vote. In 2016, a similar proposal by Cline met the same fate.

House officials say both Democrats and Republicans have supported the system of unrecorded votes in subcommittees.

“It only takes two members to request a recorded vote,” said Christopher West, policy and communications director for House Speaker William Howell and the House Republican leadership. “Based on the ratio that’s set up, there’s almost always two Democrats on a subcommittee.”

West added that when a subcommittee tables or strikes a bill, it is only a suggestion to its parent committee. The full committee can consider any piece of legislation killed in subcommittee.

“The reason we do it is because it doesn’t take final action on the bill,” West said.

On last day of the 2017 session, 85 delegates and senators – members of the Virginia Transparency Caucus – signed a letter seeking more accountability throughout the legislative process.

“The vast majority of debates and decisions determining how bills are crafted occurs in Committee or Subcommittee. Indeed, more than half of all bills die there,” Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, a co-founder of the caucus, said in the letter. “Constituents have a right to know how and why bills they support or oppose ultimately met their fate.”

The caucus sent the letter to the clerks of the House and Senate as the state is preparing to tear down and replace the decrepit General Assembly Building. The letter asked that “the new General Assembly Building (and, if possible, the interim Pocahontas Building) maintain full audio and visual recording capability, as well as transparent vote recording machines for all Committee and Subcommittee hearings rooms in both the Senate and the House of Delegates.”
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Challenger Day will get students with disabilities onto the field


Students from 22 Henrico County elementary schools will take to the baseball field Oct. 18 and learn how to field, hit and run the bases. The students will take part in Challenger Day, an annual event at the Tuckahoe Park Baseball Complex that introduces students with significant disabilities to the fundamentals of baseball. The students will also enjoy games, an art project, roaming mascots and a picnic lunch. > Read more.

Business in brief


Eisenman & Associates, Inc. employee Tracie Grady recently was named the 2017 Virginia Business Meeting Planner of the Year. Grady was chosen by a committee of industry leaders among 19 nominees. The award is a partnership between Virginia Business magazine and the Virginia Society of Association Executives. Its goal is to recognize the unsung hero of the association, non-profit, and business world, the professional meeting planner. Grady works with clients in a number of areas, including membership management, publication design, membership directories and convention/tradeshow programs. She has worked in the association industry, primarily focused on meeting planning, for more than 20 years. She is a graduate of VCU. Eisenman & Associates, Inc. is an association management and meetings consulting company. > Read more.

Lakewood to break ground on $64M expansion


A senior community in Henrico's Far West End is planning a massive expansion project.

Lakewood, located on Lauderdale Drive, will break ground on the project Oct. 19 during a celebration that also will commemorate the community's 40th anniversary. > Read more.

Henrico to hold Oct. 19 workshop on Route 5 Corridor/Marion Hill Study


The Henrico County Planning Department will hold a workshop Thursday, Oct. 19 for residents and other members of the public to provide additional input for a study of the Route 5 corridor and Marion Hill areas.

The workshop will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at John Rolfe Middle School, 6901 Messer Road. The meeting will include an overview of community input received so far and an explanation of how it is reflected in the study’s draft goals and objectives. > Read more.

Nominations open for REB awards for principals


Nominations are open for the 2017-18 REB Awards for Distinguished Educational Leadership, The Community Foundation’s yearly awards that identify, recognize and support leadership excellence in the Richmond area.

Honorees receive an unrestricted $7,500 cash grant, and $7,500 to be used for school initiatives. Nominees can be principals from public schools in Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties and the city of Richmond who have served in their current positions for at least three years. > Read more.

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The READ Center will hold a Volunteer Orientation from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The Center's mission is to help adults with low-level literacy develop reading and communication skills so they can fulfill their roles as citizens, workers and family members, and improve their quality of life. The Center provides classes and one-to-one tutoring and there is an ongoing need for volunteers willing to tutor students in reading, writing, basic math and digital skills. The READ Center is located at 4915 Radford Ave., Suite 204. For details, email Dawniece Trumbo at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Full text

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