| WilliamJHowell.org

Virginia House speaker: Read bills before voting on them

A set of new rules for the Virginia House of Delegates would "make our body more open and accessible," in part by giving lawmakers time to read legislation before they vote on it, the House speaker said Wednesday. 

Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) announced a package of new transparency rules for the House of Delegates that the entire House will consider on its first day back in session on Jan. 13.

Included in the package is a rule that would prohibit committee chairmen from holding meetings of their committees at their desks in the House chamber.

“While they are convenient for legislators and often involve only procedural issues, holding committee meetings at members' desks denies legislators, the media and the public the opportunity to be fully apprised of the committee’s actions,” Howell said in his announcement.

Committee chairmen will now be required to hold these brief meetings in House Room 1, which Howell noted is "a fully equipped committee room where legislators, the media and the public can participate without impediment.”

The second rules change is one that some legislators have demanded for several years — a "waiting period" allowing members time to read the final version of the state's biennial budget before they vote on it.

The proposed rule "will require a 48-hour waiting period before voting on the final conference report and require the public release of a comprehensive list of all (i) non-state agency requests, (ii) new items in the conference report not included in the budget originally passed by either chamber and (iii) items similar to legislation that failed in the House," according to a press release from Howell's office.

This would extend the current practice, which allows a 36-hour waiting period before members cast their votes on the final budget conference report.

"I want to thank Delegates Kilgore, Cline and O’Bannon for bringing these concepts forward last year,” said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), who will propose the rules changes.

Del. Ben Cline (R-Amherst), a longtime advocate of greater budget accountability, told AMI Newswire he is gratified to see House leaders expand the budget waiting period.

"I'm glad to see leadership supporting our efforts for greater transparency," Cline said. "This victory must be accompanied by continued public oversight of the budgetary process to ensure the taxpayers' money is being spent wisely."

Previous efforts to require both the House and Senate to adopt statutory language mandating a 72-hour waiting period before legislators vote on the final conference budget have ended in failure. A single chamber's rules can be changed from session to session.