- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

RICHMOND Democrats and Republicans in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates have pledged to put bickering aside this General Assembly session, but members of both parties were already grumbling over committee assignments yesterday.

Northern Virginia Democrats are upset that House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. took Delegate Kenneth R. Plum, Reston Democrat, off the House Appropriations Committee, leaving just one Democrat, and reduced the region's representation on the 25-member committee from six to five.

"I can understand that the speaker may have gotten upset with my continued advocacy for my area and for programs that are greatly underfunded," Mr. Plum said in a statement. "But the fair thing to have done would have been to replace me with someone from the region more to his liking."

Mr. Wilkins, Amherst Republican, also removed fellow Republican Delegate Robert S. Bloxom of Accomack from the Appropriations Committee because, Republicans say, Mr. Bloxom sided with the Democrats too often.

The money committee will be key in plugging a $1.3 billion budget shortfall for the remainder of this fiscal year, ending June 30, as well as crafting the biennial 2003-2004 budget.

The assignments to the 14 committees down from 22 were not finalized until late Wednesday night, and many reassignments were needed because of the 22 new members elected last fall.

"The real work is done in committee," said Delegate Vivian E. Watts, Fairfax Democrat, who bemoaned the removal of Mr. Plum and Mr. Bloxom as a "great loss of leadership."

Mrs. Watts said the committee assignments do not help promote bipartisanship in the House, where 64 Republicans outnumber the 34 Democrats and two independents in the chamber.

Some members defended the assignments.

Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison, Prince William Republican and member of the Appropriations Committee, said Northern Virginia is better represented now than in the past, with many members of its delegation getting committee chairmanships.

"It's more than the Democrats ever did" to be fair about assignments, he said. "You can't please everybody."

Also yesterday, Lt. Gov.-elect Tim Kaine said he wants a more open government and will push for live television coverage of the General Assembly. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Malfourd W. Trumbo, Botetourt Republican, and freshman Delegate J. Chapman Petersen, Fairfax Democrat, will carry the legislation.

"The fundamental principle of democracy is that a more open government is a better government. I think it's time we let more sunshine into state government," said Mr. Kaine, a Democrat.

About 25 states already provide for live, continuous coverage of their state legislatures. Virginia's General Assembly can only be seen on televisions in Capitol Square.

Mr. Kaine also proposed a law requiring the state Board of Education to present to legislators and the public an annual review of the Standards of Quality, which spell out the minimum requirements for school districts across the state. Virginia pays 55 percent of the cost to implement the standards, but a recent legislative study showed a serious shortfall between what the state paid and what it required of localities.

House Majority Whip Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican, said with eight female Republicans in the House it shows that women "can talk about more than women's issues" and can address subjects like the budget and transportation. The family of the late Sen. Emily Couric, Charlottesville Democrat, was presented with a resolution from the Senate commending the Northern Virginia native as a tireless leader and friend of Virginia. Mrs. Couric succumbed to pancreatic cancer in October. Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads have teamed up to form a coalition to fight for a sales-tax-increase referendum, but just for transportation needs. That could be a problem for legislators, mostly Democrats, in Northern Virginia, who want a referendum to raise the sales tax to pay for both transportation and education. The Senate could vote soon on whether Blacksburg is the next stop for red light cameras after the Transportation Committee yesterday sent the bill to the floor.

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