Last year, a bill requiring transgender people to use the restroom on their birth certificate, a law prohibiting politicians from using campaign funds for personal use and proposals to increase the minimum wage all died, unrecorded, in subcommittee hearings.
More than two-thirds of House bills were killed in anonymous voice votes in subcommittees in 2017, according to the Legislative Information System. But knowing who votes in favor of certain issues, or votes against them, is crucial to Virginians. Because, for delegates, their decisions could mean losing re-election.
“By having these votes recorded, members will now be responsible for all legislative actions they take,” said Del. Mark Levine, co-founder of the Virginia Transparency Caucus. “No more will bills be killed in secret without any accountability.”
The push for more transparency in subcommittee meetings isn’t new. Del. Benjamin Cline introduced legislation during the past few years that would require every bill to receive a recorded vote. But the bill never made it through the session. Instead, it died in subcommittee – on an unrecorded vote.
On the last day of session in 2017, the Virginia Transparency Caucus sent a letter, signed by 85 Senators and Delegates, addressed to the Clerks of both the Senate and House of Delegates. The letter demanded more transparency in all committee and subcommittee meetings.
“Constituents have a right to know how and why bills they support or oppose ultimately met their fate,” said Levine. “These proceedings have long been open to the public but are far less accessible to our constituents, who rarely have a work or family schedule that allows them to head to Richmond on a moment’s notice to watch committee or subcommittee proceedings.”
In the past, the only way to know what was going on in subcommittees was to either show up or hope a reporter covered the events. Last year, Progress Virginia started Eyes On Richmond, a transparency project which records and archives subcommittee meetings.
“Members of the House of Delegates work for Virginia families and will deserve full transparency regarding the actions they take on our behalf,” said Anna Scholl, Executive Director of Progress Virginia. “Requiring recorded votes is an important step in the right direction for transparency in Virginia.”