- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

RICHMOND The Republican-controlled General Assembly may be one of the best models Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner can use in his bid to streamline government.
With 617 fewer bills and resolutions filed since the legislature's last 60-day session in 2000, the House of Delegates and Senate seem to be the models of efficiency. Lawmakers even have filed 89 fewer bills than in last year's 45-day session. In the House, Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican, has scaled back the number of committees from 20 to 14.
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, has made government efficiency a priority. He has tapped former Democratic Gov. L. Douglas Wilder to chair a task force on government reform and ways to improve the function of state government.
Several factors account for fewer pieces of legislation filed this year, but the biggest one is that Republicans believe "less is more."
"I think some members are living out their philosophy," said Larry J. Sabato, a longtime observer of Virginia politics and a professor at the University of Virginia. "And that means less government."
House Majority Delegate Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, who touted last week on the House floor that 10.8 percent of bills introduced in his chamber already had been acted on in committee, said the conservative tone set by him and other leaders in the House can be seen in the reduced legislation. Last year at this time, committees had taken up about 3 percent of bills.
"There is a distrust of putting more law on the books by Republicans and conservatives, and therefore you get the advantage of a fewer number of bills being introduced," Mr. Griffith said. "We are asking ourselves the question … 'Do we need these bills?'"
Legislators are also able to devote more time to the legislation, and that increases the chances bills get killed in committees, Mr. Griffith said.
"Bills are getting greater scrutiny, so what is happening is that when you have fewer bills, you have the ability to look at them," Mr. Griffith said. "We have a higher percentage of bills that die because somebody notices something that's not right with it."
The clerk of the Senate, Susan Clarke Schaar, said that even while lawmakers were busy working on 878 pieces of legislation introduced by the 40-member Senate, the process was going faster, especially in committees. For instance, all Senate-introduced bills should be out of their respective committees by sometime this week.
"That's very unusual. It is good news," Ms. Schaar said.
Another reason for fewer bills is the high number of freshman delegates in the House. There are 22 new delegates and two new senators, but the senators came from the House. Freshman legislators typically do not introduce heaps of legislation.
House Majority Whip Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican, said one of the main reasons fewer bills have been sent to the printer is because of the dreary budget situation. The state faces a $3.5 billion budget shortfall through 2004 and perhaps a $5 billion shortfall through 2005.
"If someone asks you to carry legislation and it has a fiscal impact," Mrs. Devolites said, "it's a waste of time."
But Mr. Wilkins said on the House floor last week that work on the 1,678 bills and resolutions introduced in the House was still daunting.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Mr. Wilkins said.
Legislators also are tiptoeing around the most difficult legislation, Mrs. Devolites and other members said.
"The easy ones are coming through fast. The ones that are most controversial are the ones we pass by," Mrs. Devolites said.

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