Hopes and expectations

Published 10:11 pm Wednesday, February 27, 2019

By the time the 2020 General Assembly convenes, we hope Virginia voters will be able to see subcommittee meetings without having to travel to Richmond.

Unfortunately, however, our expectations reflect the reality that many public officials still want to conduct their business in private.

True transparency in Virginia’s statehouse has plodded along at a slower pace than much of the rest of the country. Floor sessions of the House and Senate were not archived until 2017. Committee hearings were not livestreamed and archived by the General Assembly until this session. Virginia became the 42nd state to record such meetings — an abysmal finish.

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In 2018, the advocacy group Progress Virginia began livestreaming subcommittee meetings as part of its Eyes on Richmond program, using college interns with cellphones and tripods. But while we appreciate the group providing this service, they shouldn’t need to do it.

The slow march toward state-funded and -provided transparency in the state capitol is ever so slowly inching toward where the true work happens — the subcommittees.

It wasn’t until the beginning of the 2018 session that subcommittee votes were even written down and published so that voters could see which legislators favored advancing or killing a particular bill.

At the end of this year’s General Assembly session, a group of 68 percent of delegates and 72 percent of senators signed a letter urging recording and archiving of meetings of the many subcommittees of both houses.

More than half of all House legislation fails in subcommittee, Delegate Mark Levine of Alexandria noted recently. Voters who are passionate about a certain issue have to travel to Richmond if they want to hear the subcommittee discussion on a particular bill, and that’s a sad state of affairs in 2019.

With the advanced, relatively inexpensive technology available these days, the state should have long since taken care of this. But we all know why they haven’t.

With a majority of legislators in both houses now saying they favor the state-sponsored recording and archiving of subcommittee meetings, we hope the tide has finally turned.