Legislators want more meetings recorded

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2019

By Owen FitzGerald

Capital News Service

A bipartisan group of Virginia lawmakers is demanding that the General Assembly record and archive its subcommittee meetings — a critical part of the legislative process and the only proceedings not yet video-recorded by the state.

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The demand was contained in a letter drafted by Delegate Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, co-founders of the Virginia Transparency Caucus. It was signed by 68 of the 100 members of the Virginia House of Delegates and 29 of the 40 state senators.

Those signing the letter who represent part of Suffolk included Delegate Emily Brewer, Sen. John Cosgrove, Delegate Cliff Hayes, Sen. Monty Mason and Sen. Thomas Norment.

Virginia has been slower than other states to pull back the curtain on the legislative process. Floor sessions of the House and Senate were not archived until 2017. Committee hearings were not livestreamed and archived by the General Assembly until the Transparency Caucus pushed for that after the 2018 session. Virginia became the 42nd state to record such meetings.

In 2018, the advocacy group Progress Virginia began livestreaming subcommittee meetings as part of its Eyes on Richmond program. College interns use cellphones and tripods to stream video of the meetings to the Eyes on Richmond website.

Legislators recognize the importance of such transparency.

“Subcommittees are where the primary work of the General Assembly gets done,” Levine said. “More than half of all House legislation fails in subcommittee. It’s where the majority of bills get amended and discussed at length.”

He said that the public deserves access, not “just the lobbyists.”

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said that all Virginians, no matter how far from the Capitol, deserve to see their legislators in action. Rhyne believes the proposed policy is a “big step in the right direction.”

Levine and Chase presented their letter Sunday, the final day of the legislative session, to G. Paul Nardo, the clerk of the House of Delegates, and Susan Clarke Schaar, clerk of the Senate.

The letter “formally requests that both Clerks’ Offices maintain and provide to the public full audio and visual recordings of all the official business of the legislative subcommittees in the Virginia General Assembly that is open to the public.”

“I believe in full transparency,” Chase said, “and that the voters of our great Commonwealth should be able to see and witness those they have elected to office.”

This is the second time that the Transparency Caucus has asked legislative leaders to video-record subcommittee meetings. The group made a similar request in 2017.

The caucus was co-founded by Levine and Chase in 2016. At the beginning of the 2018 legislative session, the caucus persuaded House leaders to require that all subcommittee votes be recorded.