Delegate Peace in an email to a third party:
I appreciate your sending me your thoughts regarding recorded votes in subcommittees. It is unfortunate that this issue has been so misunderstood. Most people don’t know the facts.
No final action on bills can be taken in subcommittee — final action can only occur in full committee where all votes are recorded and available on-line. Subcommittees act as mark-up or working sessions to address problems which may be foreseeable, correct those problem if possible and put legislation in a proper posture giving it the best chance of passage. It provides an atmosphere to air concerns and institutes efficiencies for the session.
Although subcommittees do take action on legislation, their decisions – under Democrat control or Republican – have never been posted separately on the Internet. This is because the result of any actions can be ascertained quite easily by reviewing the bill summaries that are available on the Internet ( http://leg1.state.va.us ). A bill that was not fully prepared to be taken to the full committee or failed to win any significant support would be listed there as “Left in Subcommittee”.
Often in this process, a bill will receive little support and not enough to move forward. The full committee — irrespective of the subcommittee’s recommendation — can bring up any bill at any time. In addition, subcommittee meetings are open to the public and all are welcome to record any portion of the subcommittee proceeding, be it testimony, arguments, and/or votes.
The legislature typically goes through between 2000-3000 bills within a 45 or 60 day session. If you do the math, that’s a lot of output each day, so we must have a process in place that let’s us allocate time and divide the work in the most efficient manner.
I share your view — and agree — that citizens should know where their elected representatives stand on legislation before the General Assembly. I believe our current system does a good job of balancing the necessity of letting the sunshine in on the legislative process while having a procedure that promotes efficiency.
Again, thanks for your note. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to serve you better.
Delegate Chris Peace
97th House District
804-698-1097 (Richmond Office)
804-730-3737 (District Office)
I respectfully disagree for several reasons.
The great thing about what we did last year in the House: we gave killing power to subcommittees. So now, as a — I’m a subcommittee chairman of two committees now. And we can actually kill a bill in subcommittee and it cannot come up in full committee. And it used to be able to get killed in subcommittee, and go in front of full committee, then it would get passed and moved on. So, the [inaudible] knew how to work that game.
So now, I have as few as five people on my subcommittee and as a subcommittee chair I can usually reel a few of them [inaudible].
So — um — they know it’s a different world out there and they have to come to us and they have strike deals. And one of them deals is that you treat me as a peer — not as a citizen. So that’s where we are.
Here’s what the Richmond Times-Dispatch said:
Republicans in the House of Delegates started off this year’s session with a profoundly dubious decision. Once again, they chose to let subcommittees kill bills with unrecorded voice votes.
Here’s what the Daily Press said:
Open government took a slap in the face when the Republican majority in the House of Delegates changed the rules in the 2006 legislative session. The change allows bills to die in subcommittee without a recorded vote.
Here’s what TriCities.com said:
In the latest open government clash in Richmond, Delegate Bob Marshall has emerged as an unlikely hero – the lone voice of reason among House Republicans.
Marshall, a fiery social conservative who hails from Prince William County, was the only member of his delegation to vote in favor of recording subcommittee votes last week. The measure did not pass.
The subcommittee system remains an unaccountable black hole, where House lawmakers send unpopular measures to die. No comparable bill-killing chamber exists in the state Senate.
Here’s what The Daily Progress said:
Call it the gulag of lawmaking.
Proposed bills go into the darkness and there they are killed, no spotlight, no fingerprints.
The General Assembly continues to cloak in secrecy some of its most basic decisions, those concerning the life or death of proposed laws. A bill to change this was defeated on a largely partisan vote during the very first hour the legislature was in session.
Here’s the background:
Two years ago, the GOP majority in the House of Delegates used its new power to change the legislative rules under which the House operated. Bills that went to subcommittee for evaluation could be killed there – with no recorded vote.
Previously, subcommittees had recommended the fate of legislation to their full committees.
Although the committees often accepted those recommendations with little or no discussion, at least there was a chance for further discussion. And there was a record of who voted for or against sending the bill forward to the House.
Constituents could find out not only what happened to a bill, but who made it happen. The old system provided openness and accountability.
Proponents also pointed out at the time that the subcommittee meetings were open to the public. Members of the public pointed out that the subcommittee members huddled together at tables set at a sufficient distance that spectators seldom could hear what was happening. There were no microphones and scant effort by the subcommittee members to make their voices heard.
Here’s what The Daily News Record said:
Two years ago, the House voted to change the rules to allow subcommittees to kill legislation, although critics said that bills should not be killed by a few people without a recorded vote. The critics had a good point, if not the majority of votes.