While this 2017 session may have seemed less contentious and overtly partisan than last year’s session — it was not.
The heavy-handed partisanship and sometimes hurtful rhetoric was mostly displayed in the committees and subcommittees, not often on the floor of our chamber in the Capitol.
Partisanship was definitely on display when many bills with Democratic patrons were scheduled to be heard at times that were very difficult to predict within a given subcommittee’s agenda, scheduled simultaneously with many other subcommittee meetings, scheduled very early or very late in the day in meetings with hours-long agendas or simply not scheduled to be heard at all. How is that a display of partisanship? All subcommittees and committees are chaired by Republicans.
Most of the bills that survived the subcommittees and committees were filed by Republicans. Political party committee membership is determined by the proportion of Republicans to Democrats in the total membership of the House. Out of a total of 100 Delegates, 34 are Democrats. This fact combined with the rule that no proxy votes are allowed and an increasingly hectic meeting schedule as the session rolls on, leads to committees dominated by Republicans voting on bills while the ridiculously small minority of Democrats race from meeting to meeting to vote or present a bill.
The House of Delegates’ protocol that there are no proxy votes and that votes in subcommittee meetings are unrecorded voice votes decided by a majority of those present also tilts outcomes decisively in favor of the majority party — the Republicans. Unrecorded votes and unrecorded decisions never to hear a bill work to make the survival rate of bills with Democrat patrons very low. One last rule (relatively new) that boosts the death rate of Democratic bills is that similar bills may not be ‘rolled together’ during a subcommittee or committee meeting — all bills on an agenda must be taken up separately and voted up or down one by one. Thus only one out of several bills on the same subject aimed at the same result will survive.
And only one member of the House will be the patron of that successful bill. It is no surprise that the last patron standing is almost always a Republican. These practices do disenfranchise Democrats in the House of Delegates, but more importantly, the every member of the public is disenfranchised as well. If a citizen cannot decipher when a bill is scheduled to be discussed, that citizen cannot speak for or against a bill, or witness the presentation or final vote on that bill. Often ‘the people’s business’ is transacted without the people. Voters are represented mostly in absentia by those they elect, and that representation is often not recorded.
These proceedings are obviously partisan, designed to achieve a partisan result. This means that the minority party is allowed an extremely limited role.
Obviously as a Democrat, I am in the minority in the House of Delegates. I take all my votes very seriously and work hard to use them to represent my constituents’ values. And when the rare opportunity to use my vote to speak clearly for my community during this session arose, I took it! I voted “no” on the budget. Mine was the only “no” vote in the entire General Assembly.
I could not in good faith support a budget which not only underfunds the needs of all Virginians, but particularly discriminates against women who live in extreme poverty. This budget eliminates the $6 million of TANF funds (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) — allocated for long-acting reversible birth control for women who survive on $2 a day. The only funds in the budget for long-acting reversible birth control for poor women. Do Virginians want to increase the number of children living in poverty and take women out of the workforce? I do not believe this is the ‘Virginia way.’
Why deny these women the opportunity to be in charge of their own health care? I heard many spirited speeches in the General Assembly this year making the point that ‘free men and women’ should be allowed to make their own choices in all matters — not have their choices made for them by politicians. I agree. That is why I could not support this budget. That is why I voted “no.”
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]