“Left In Appropriations” Ends Many a Bill History

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Fighting words to a member of the State Senate: “Left in Appropriations.”   That phrase appears at the abrupt end of the bill history for so many pieces of Senate legislation (and plenty of House bills, too.)  See for yourself – it is quite a list. All bills died with adjournment Sunday.

I went looking there recently for the fate of Senator Bill Carrico’s proposal to set up an elective course with credit on the Bible in Virginia public schools. Such a course was bound to prove a lightning rod, but that collection of books and the history around them is at the heart of Western Civilization. The growing level of ignorance is appalling. I was all for that idea, which was “Left in Appropriations.”

David Poole and his team at the Virginia Public Access, Project have once again developed worthwhile graphics scoring the legislative outcomes. The concern is not that too many bills fail, but that too many pass. Too many are introduced in the first place. A helpful, efficient staff of lawyers is willing to write any hare-brained idea into a bill, so bills proliferate.

If you want to change behavior, start to measure it and highlight it.  The decline in bills dying with no recorded vote at all is huge, as we can see now that VPAP is tracking results annually. People rail against so many bills being snuffed in a subcommittee rather than full committee, but now more of those votes are at least recorded.

A Glimpse Inside the Process

If you think changing the leadership to the Other Party will eliminate that practice, think again. If a bill is introduced simply for the purpose of forcing a politically-useful wedge vote, by either party, that targeted party is justified in putting the bill in a drawer. One can only imagine what was found in his desk when the late, great House Courts Committee Chair Hardaway Marks retired.  “We’ll let you know,” he would say, smiling at many a patron who asked about the fate of his or her bill.

Formally streaming and recording more subcommittee meetings is the next reform, and with the equipment getting so cheap that will likely occur soon. It still blows me away to realize that I can go back and view committee and floor sessions at leisure. No question, the presence of cameras has greatly changed the process.  It has also lowered their entertainment value.

The humor of decades past is gone, or largely muted  It was often politically incorrect. Hopewell’s Riley Ingram had the House roaring with laughter with his retirement speech (streamed, of course) last week, but there were stories I know he left out. One I will only hint at: a wisecrack made openly on the House floor (not by him) during debate on a bill involving fox hunting with dogs. (What you imagine is probably worse than what was said but enjoy your imagination.)

A similar wisecrack about a bill taking the fun out of drinking and driving helped end the career of a state senator, and he was not on video saying it. We have paid a price for the new transparency. Eggshells and landmines are everywhere you step, as we’ve demonstrated again this past four weeks.

Daily House and Senate floor sessions are now substantially lengthened by “Point of Personal Privilege” speeches which were rare in the days before the never-blinking cameras appeared. Now they are up on social media before the  daily calendar is complete.

It may be time to borrow another practice from Congress and allow members onto the floor when nobody else is there to declaim on the record to their heart’s content, wasting nobody’s time but their own.

The legislative process and our legislators take a fair amount of abuse, some of it deserved, but over time it has become far more open, accessible and accountable. Further progress is possible, imperative in the realm of lobbyist reporting, but it will happen only if we continue to push and complain.

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5 responses to ““Left In Appropriations” Ends Many a Bill History

  1. Let me be clear up front: I was opposed to Stanley’s bill. The opportunities for mischief or abuse it presented were too great, as was noted by several commenters on BR. Interestingly, the Virginia Baptist Association opposed it, too. Its representative said, among other things, it did not trust the government teaching about the Bible.

    That being said, this bill was not treated honestly. Of course, that is not unusual. It is an open secret in the General Assembly that the way to deal with a bill that makes members uncomfortable is to refer it to the money committees. Doing that will allow members who think a bill is a bad idea, but who are reluctant to vote against it because of political reasons, can vote for it in the subject area committee and refer it to Appropriations or Senate Finance, knowing it can be killed there for fiscal reasons. The money committees are supposed to consider bills referred to them in this way only on the basis of their fiscal impact and not on their underlying subject matter. That is, would the cost to implement a bill be so much that the agency affected would need additional money and can that money be included in the budget bill? But, often, it is known that the purpose of sending it to the money committee is for it to die a quiet death, while legislators can say to their constituents that they voted for it in committee, but those stingy folks on the money committee killed it.

    The Senate did not engage in this game with this bill. It was not sent to Senate Finance, but was voted on by the full Senate, where it was passed on a close vote. In the House, however, it was different. The bill was sent to Appropriations and left there. What was this fiscal impact that required it to be sent to Appropriations? $80,000. The Department of Education has a general fund appropriation of more than $60 million for its central office operations. Is there anyone who could argue with a straight face that the agency could not find $80,000 in that appropriation to implement this bill? Turnover and vacancy savings alone would produce more than that amount.

    As far as those fiscal impact statements go, there was a time when the Department of Planning and Budget would not have said that a budget amendment was needed for a $20,000 impact (the first impact statement) or an $80,000 impact for an agency of the size of the Department of Education. (The second impact statement, for unexplained reasons, showed a higher impact.) The impact statement would have said that the agency could absorb that cost.

    On another note, I agree with Steve. The proceedings are much more transparent, which is good, but it is not as entertaining.

  2. I opposed the bill because public schools and the curricula therein should be a local matter. Why do hayseeds from Hooterville like Bill Carrico believe they have any right to tell those of us in NoVa what we should teach our children, especially regarding religion? In the same vein, the good people of southwest Virginia don’t need pinheaded yuppie socialist politicians from Northern Virginia telling them what to do either.

    Carrico’s campaign was heavily funded by coal mining interests such as Alpha Natural Resources and Consol Energy. I can only imagine his position on clean energy. He has put forth numerous bills allowing state and local government employees to refuse to “issue a marriage license if such clerk has an objection to the issuance of such license on personal, ethical, moral, or religious grounds.” In other words, no licenses for gay people. That is also completely contrary to the desires of most Northern Virginians.

    If the General Assembly doesn’t have time to vote on all the proposed legislation maybe it’s because too many rural hillbilly politicians and urban yuppie socialist politicians are proposing legislation that should be left to the localities to decide. Why do the miscreants in our General Assembly have such an anal retentive attitude toward micro-managing the affairs of Virginians who live far away from their home districts – both physically and psychologically?

    • The amended version of the bill made it a local option, but did have the Board of Education setting it up as a for-credit course where offered. As to your neighborhood, I would agree no point in casting pearls. That’s one of them Biblical allusions that now go right by most people, BTW, casting pearls before swine…..

      • Why would the General Assembly need to pass a bill to make a course a local option? Is there anything that would preclude Fairfax County from offering this course if they wanted to do so (without the bill)? This sounds like a suggestion in the form of legislation.

        Romans 8:1-3 “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, …”

        What we really need is to be set free of the law of The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond.

  3. This is fairly simple. Folks who believe in the Bible think it should be talk in public school. Those same folks are not in favor of Islam or other religions being taught.

    Their attitude is that this country is a predominately Christian country and teaching it in schools is serving the majority and the others do not matter and are not really religions that were involved in the creation of the Nation.

    Those counties that believe this would be more than happy if the GA got out of it and let them do what they want to do.

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