More Complicated than It Looks…

transparencyTransparency in General Assembly Voting. 

Two weeks ago I blogged how two-thirds of the 1,221 of the 3,000 bills submitted in the 2016 General Assembly session died in committees without a vote. (See “Killing Bills Quietly.”) To my mind, the numbers implied a scandalous resistance to transparency and accountability.

Former Sen. Chris Saxman, now president of Virginia FREE, lent some perspective in a recent newsletter:

The General Assembly has 60 and 45 day sessions which move very quickly with a process designed to go slowly. Each session will yield about 2,000 votes per legislator. … What is fairly certain is that next year the General Assembly will be criticized, once again, for putting in too many bills, passing too many bills, and then killing too many bills. …

Many bills that do not advance have votes that are not recorded because the legislation itself is not quite ready for one. What happens in that situation is that the bill is explained to the subcommittee, then the chair asks those in the room to speak either for or against the bill – quickly – and then the patron is given a chance to respond. All the while amendments can be offered to improve the bill and its chances of passing. … Can you imagine a system in which every amendment has a recorded vote and corresponding procedures? Not much would get done. (See the U.S. Congress)

The chair then tells the subcommittee, “Okay, ladies and gentlemen, the bill is before you.” If no amendments had been offered, the chances are that no motion will be heard. The chair then says, “Hearing no motions…the bill does not report” which effectively, but not actually, kills the bill. Other motions can be heard and voted on and, as stated above, any of them can be recorded.

The process, however, moves so very fast that the patron knows that the chance of the bill being signed into law is simply not worth the time and work so he or she will ask for and/or be granted by the chair a more palatable motion to “lay the bill on the table.” This is a courtesy to the patron. Sometimes a member can be extra nice to the patron and say the bill be “gently” laid on the table; however, there is no actual motion called gently laying on the table. It’s a professional courtesy.

This does not mean that the bill is dead. It means the bill is held by the committee. Anyone on that committee can later make a motion to take the bill off the table through a motion of reconsideration.

There’s always more to the story than meets the eye.

memory_holeDumping Harry F. Byrd Down the Memory Hole. In an uncharacteristic fit of political correctness, I endorsed the movement of students and parents at Harry F. Byrd Middle School in Henrico County to take a new name. Recognizing the deceased segregationist governor seemed especially inappropriate for a school with a large percentage of African-American students.

But in a recent op-ed, J. Edward Grimsley reminded us that Byrd was a progressive fellow by the standards of Jim Crow-era segregationists. Most notably, Byrd fought for and won the nation’s first anti-lynching law, bringing lynchings in Virginia to a halt. The legislation, Grimsley wrote, “made one of the most significant contributions to black civil rights since President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.”

If we are to be consistent in removing honors for segregationists, then let’s not single out Byrd. Let’s rename any school honoring Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, after all, famously interned the entire U.S. Japanese population and, as Grimsley noted, did virtually nothing to reverse African-American segregation. He continued:

Having the power to desegregate the nation’s armed forces without the Supreme Court’s permission [Roosevelt] refused to do more than make a few token gestures. … Roosevelt repeatedly rejected pleas to follow the Byrd example and propose a federal anti-lynching law. And Washington, over which the federal government has ultimate jurisdiction, remained one of the most segregated cities in America until the middle of the 20th century.

Concludes Grimsley: “It would be a supreme injustice to allow Harry Byrd’s name to be tossed into Henrico’s trash bin of history without remembering that when black Virginians urgently needed the  help of a powerful political friend, he was there to support their most important civil right of all: the right to live.”

Note to knee-jerks: I am not defending Harry Byrd’s support of segregation. I am recognizing that the man is more nuanced than commonly portrayed.

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4 responses to “More Complicated than It Looks…”

  1. So, the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond proffers so many half witted bills that recording who wanted to keep or kill the bill in committee would bog down the process?

    You know Jim – I actually own the toll rights to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and I be happy to sell you those rights for a reasonable price.

    Seriously Jim – you bought that clap trap about our political class being to busy to record the committee votes? These yo – yo’s have enough time to play basketball against each other, attend shad plankings and proffer innumerable bills that commend somebody or other for having lived and died in Virginia but they are too busy to provide transparency to the voters who elect them? Did Chris Saxman give you an honorary red rubber ball to tape to your nose?

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    I can buy the idea that bills not voted out of committee for subsequent action might have no actual vote is in order to accomplish the action – you need a motion and a second and a unanimous vote.

    Having said that I find it hard to believe that no bills were motioned and then rejected. We KNOW there are games being played here and people are increasingly not happy with it. The only problem is that most folks think it’s not their elected guy doing it – it’s the other guys.

    That’s where the Tea Party could make a real contribution to returning us to the kind of governance that the Founding Fathers actually envisioned.

    so let’s start giving questionnaires to each and every GA guy asking them what their actions were and were not on the bills that came to the committees that they sit on.

    or perhaps others have better ideas… but the point here is to deal with the de-facto secret society of elected officials running amok in Richmond.

  3. I have the same problem trying to get legislation for healthcare, to protect the public, thanks to the lobbyists, lawyers and big $$$$$ spenders for the legislatures’ reelection campaign donations.

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