KUDOS TO Virginia’s General Assembly for making the public’s business a little more transparent. Starting this past Wednesday, committee hearings will now be streamed live and archived, something that open-government proponents have been seeking for years.
Although the House of Delegates is awash with new members this session following last November’s Democratic tsunami, the desire for more openness apparently came from the old guard.
A majority of the state’s legislators last year asked that the committee hearings be broadcast from the Pocahontas Building in Richmond, where the lawmakers will meet for the next four sessions while a new General Assembly building is being built.
The new policy will be a godsend for those who live many hours from Richmond and want to keep an eye of what their legislators are doing. Anyone with internet access, from Chincoteague to the Cumberland Gap, can view the hearings live or watch them later after they have been archived.
It will make it much easier to hold our lawmakers accountable.
Lack of transparency in Richmond is nothing new. A report released to the Richmond Times-Dispatch three years ago pointed out that meetings of legislative committees were often called with little or no notice, the committees declined to hear many bills and public comment was often blocked.
In 2015, the House either did not take a recorded vote or didn’t vote at all on 76 percent of the bills that were killed in subcommittee or committee, according to Transparency Virginia.
Among other things, bills seeking bipartisan redistricting to deal with gerrymandering were tabled in House Privileges and Elections subcommittees on voice votes, thereby shielding individual lawmakers from accountability on a contentious issue.
Last year, in an effort to open the door a little more, the liberal advocacy group Progress Virginia, though its Eyes on Richmond project, paid citizens to record video from some committee hearings, but the sound and general quality were uneven. Live streaming should be a big step forward.
According to Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar and House Clerk G. Paul Nardo, the cost for making the Senate and House of Delegates hearings available to all of us will be about $736,000. That comes out to about 9 cents per Virginian—not a bad price for a little sunlight.