Local Commentary

Delegate Scott’s Richmond Report

Left in committee

Thanks to the press, many people know that numerous bills considered in the House of Delegates never receive a recorded vote. No minutes are taken of subcommittee votes so the chair of the full committee has to rely on the chair of the subcommittee to report accurately on the bills that are favorably considered.

Subcommittees can be as few as five members. If one person is absent, and the subcommittee deadlocks two to two, the bill may never be mentioned in committee.

Bills that are not “reported” by the subcommittee never reach the House floor for debate or vote. If you visit the website of the General Assembly’s Legislative Information Service, you will on see the words “Left in Finance Committee,” “Left in the Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns,” and so on for all 14 House committees.

The chairman’s prerogative

An old phrase in parliamentary parlance has become current again as another way to kill bills. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, the chair of a decision-making body has considerable latitude in setting the agenda and conducting meeting.

The chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Fairfax County is an excellent example. By law, even though only Gerry Connolly represents all the people of the County, the main power he has by statute is to conduct meetings of the Board of Supervisors.

In Richmond, the House of Delegates operates under its own rules, based on Jefferson’s Manual, a set of parliamentary rules written by Thomas Jefferson in 1801 while he was Vice President.

In each case, the chairman can call a meeting, decide who speaks, what is the topic for debate and when the meeting should adjourn unless a majority overrules him (which virtually never happens).

In the House of Delegates, with no recorded votes in subcommittee, a subcommittee chair can kill bills by not scheduling a meeting in the last few days of the time scheduled to hear House bills.

One freshman delegate had eight bills killed without being heard. Others had one to five bills or resolutions killed without a hearing or a vote.

Three bills that I considered important were never heard by a subcomittee or committee of the House. One was a bill that would have caused the creation of a campaign report audit system. Now there is no system to check campaign expenditures and receipts for their completeness and accuracy.

My bill would have called for random audits of campaign reports selected randomly each year. It was never heard by the subcommittee. On two occasions the committee adjourned before I could arrive after attending a conflicting subcommittee meeting. The subcommittee was scheduled to meet three times, but the chair cancelled the last meeting with my bill on the docket.

Another bill that passed the House last year only to be killed in the Senate was treated similarly. The last regularly scheduled meeting of the subcommittee was cancelled and did not hear or discuss my bill to prevent people who had their parental rights removed by a court because of torture, abuse or sexual abuse of a child from buying or owning a firearm.