Sunday, January 1, 2012
Let the Sun Shine on Virginia's Legislature
Some of the most important work we do in the legislature takes place in committee. Bills are killed, amended, entirely replaced (substituted), or "rolled into" other bills. Unless you are there, you are left to guess about what was said and why it happened.
A couple years ago, a fight began raging over whether the General Assembly ought to at least require recorded votes in committee and subcommittee meetings. Today, recorded votes are the subcommittee are very uncommon. That issue will continue to bubble.
One issue that I have raised is requiring all of our business to be conducted on the record and we ought to use technology to improve the performance of our Government.
I am in the courtroom almost every day as part of my law practice. Court reporters are not required in Virginia and court proceedings are not automatically recorded. In my first session, I introduced legislation allowing automatic digital recording of all proceedings in all courts. That legislation was rejected, but Attorney General Cuccinelli wrote an opinion that legislation was not required and a recording system is now being installed in the Fairfax County Courthouse today.
We still lag behind in the General Assembly. House and Senate floor sessions in Virginia are live streamed and archived on video. However, Committee and Subcommittee meetings are open to the public, but only if you are there.
According to the National Council of State Legislatures, there are only 14 legislatures in the United States that do not have audio or video live streaming or digital archiving of committee and subcommittee proceedings. We are one of them.
Last year I introduced legislation requiring committee and subcommittee meetings to be digitally recorded and placed on the internet. It was tabled in Committee with directions to be studied.
The House Clerk's Office believes that it will cost approximately $85,000 to purchase the hardware and software necessary to at least provide archived digital recordings of House Commitee proceedings and about $4,500 per year after that for software licensing fees.
This is an insignificant expense compared with the benefit that it would provide to allowing the public to see and hear what goes on when most of the heavy lifting is done in public on legislation. I am introducing the legislation again and hope that this year, we will have better luck.