Efforts underway to make 2017 General Assembly session more transparent

Posted at 6:48 PM, Jan 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-18 10:32:06-05

RICHMOND, Va - Pay raises for state workers and potential battles controversial social legislation dominated side conversations on the first day of the 2017 Virginia General Assembly.

The House of Delegates gaveled in at noon Wednesday, marking the beginning of the last session Governor Terry McAuliffe will spend in the executive mansion.

Leaders from both parties told CBS 6 amendments to McAuliffe’s proposed budget loom large over the 2017 session. A pay raise promised to state employees was put on ice after a project $1.2 million budget shortfall.

House budget chairman Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) said Republicans in the G.A. are exploring who to reinstate those raises into the budget; however, Democratic and Republican leaders said they need to see revenue numbers from the end of 2016 before committing to the raises.

As is typical, controversy has already begun swirling around the state house.

Republican delegate Bob Marshall has proposed a “bathroom bill,” similar to the controversial transgender legislation in North Carolina that made national headlines. McAuliffe has vowed to veto the bill if it reached his desk, and Republican leaders said the bill is not a priority.

The 2017 session marks the beginning of new ways to access the process of government without heading to the state house.

Progress Virginia, a progressive political advocacy group, plans on live streaming committee and sub-committee meetings online. Legislation must pass through sub-committees and committees before they are heard on the floor of either chamber.

“The state provides no video documentation. There is not transcript of the the debate or commentary or anything along those lines,” said Anna Scholl, Executive Director of Progress VA. “It just really shouldn’t be that hard to see what your elected officials are doing on your behalf.”


Speaker of the House of Delegates William Howell (R-Stafford) also announced “on demand” online access to House floor sessions in 2017.

"Our proven record of well-planned and effective technology solutions not only assist the public, media and all who are interested in the people’s business, but also enable them to be better informed about our legislative proceedings. I look forward to continuing to build on these ideas and initiatives in systematic manner,” Howell said.

The archived videos can be found here.

Day one of session is mostly procedural; however, sometimes surprises happen. Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who had his convictions on corruption charges thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, attended the legislative prayer breakfast.

He told CBS 6 despite a divisive election cycle in 2016, he is urging his former colleagues to lean toward civility.

"Just to be more civil, have good manners, take care of each other, find ways to work together. Find common ground. This Capitol is a much different place than Washington,” McDonnell said.

The General Assembly with meet for the next 45 days, and consider more than 1,000 pieces of legislation. Leaders in both parties said it is “difficult” to get big legislative packages through both chambers and the Governor’s office in that short time frame.



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