House OKs rule to record committee votes

The House of Delegates must now record votes taken by members in committees and subcommittees.

Delegates voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to support legislation establishing the rules of the House for the 2018-2019 sessions. Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, sponsored the legislation that includes the requirement that legislative staff must record the names and number of those who vote for, against or who abstain each measure.

“The incoming Republican leadership felt strongly that recording votes in subcommittees needed to happen, and we were pleased to be able to deliver greater transparency in the legislative process,” Gilbert stated in an email Thursday.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, lauded the House’s action Thursday.

“Well, I think it’s a fantastic move,” Rhyne said by phone. “It will really help citizens as well as the legislators keep track of their performance. Citizens can see how their legislators voted and legislators can show the public how they voted.”

Recorded votes allow legislators to show constituents when they were for or against bills, Rhyne noted.

“It’s so much better for just the transparency for the entire legislative process,” Rhyne said.

Staff must record the votes using an electronic voting system, the rules state. The updated rules go on to state the recorded vote shall be reported with the bill or resolution and ordered printed on the calendar on any matter reported from a committee and sent to the floor. The rules do not require a recorded vote on a motion to adjourn, to refer or re-refer administratively, to pass by for the day or postpone, except upon a call by the chairman or one-fifth of the members present.

Critics of earlier attempts to impose the new rule claimed recording votes would create more work for legislative staff members, Rhyne said. But staff use electronic devices to record the votes or the committees are small enough to keep track.

The Senate rules call for its committees and subcommittees to record their votes, Rhyne said. The House also used to require recorded votes, she added.

Del. Benjamin L. Cline, R-Amherst, tried unsuccessfully in recent years to pursue the change through legislation.

Transparency Virginia prepared a report in 2016 that looked back 10 years prior when the House and Senate recorded their committee and subcommittee votes. The Senate gradually improved its practice of recording votes, Rhyne said.

“We sure hope both of them stick to the practice,” Rhyne said.