- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — Democrats failed yesterday in an effort to prevent bills from being killed anonymously by a handful of House members in sparsely attended subcommittee meetings.

Open-government groups and organizations as disparate as the conservative Virginia Club for Growth, the League of Women Voters and the AARP had called for ending the practice.

But on a nearly party-line 45-54 vote, the first substantial policy issue vote taken in the opening hour of the 2008 General Assembly, Republicans used their majority to defeat the amendment offered by Delegate Kenneth R. Plum.

“The public’s right to know is a basic tenet of all we do. It’s why we pass freedom of information law,” said Mr. Plum, Fairfax County Democrat.

Virginia’s part-time legislature relies heavily on its committee system to vet legislation and either advance it to the House or Senate floor or kill it. Committees appoint subcommittees to edit and amend the bills before they come before the full committee.

Two years ago, the House changed the rules to allow subcommittees to kill legislation. Critics objected that bills should not be killed by a few people without a recorded vote.

Mr. Plum argued yesterday that some subcommittees consist of as few as five delegates, that they can meet with a quorum of just three delegates and that a majority of that quorum — just two delegates — can kill a bill with no record of their action. Because subcommittees often huddle at odd times ranging from dawn to evening hours in out-of-the-way niches across Capitol Square, it’s difficult for reporters or the public to monitor them.

“The public needs to know how we conduct our business,” he argued.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith countered that requiring recorded votes for subcommittees would make an already heavy workload of about 3,000 bills in a 60-day session almost unbearable.

“If we go to this process, we might as well forget about subcommittees and go to hearing all bills in full committee,” said Mr. Griffith, Salem Republican.

House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong, Henry County Democrat, argued that a transparent legislature is more important to voters and taxpayers than a streamlined one.

“If want to take [Mr. Griffith’s] argument that this saves time, gee, think how much time could be saved if we didn’t bother with recorded votes here on the floor,” Mr. Armstrong said.

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