Transparency caucus urges open government

(PHOTO CREDIT: Capital News Service)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/CNS) – Two first-term legislators, a Republican and a Democrat, announced the formation of a new bipartisan caucus Monday, one targeted to make the Virginia General Assembly more accessible to the public.

The Virginia Transparency Caucus is the brainchild of Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Midlothian. They want their colleagues to follow their lead in giving the public access to what happens in legislative committees and subcommittees.

“We have agreed to videotape the entire proceedings for every one of our bills – subcommittees and committees. Our constituents have a right to know what happened with our bills,” Levine said. “To become a member of the Transparency Caucus, you just have to agree to commit to make public your votes in subcommittee and committee hearings.”

Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, supports the new caucus. “We’re very proud to continue in that tradition and push for more transparency in the House and throughout the General Assembly.”

At the press conference, Chase voiced her opinion on the Senate rule change that moved the media from the chamber’s floor to the upper gallery, away from lawmakers.

“I don’t have a problem with the press being there on the floor, personally,” she said.

Chase indicated that the policy might be changed.

“There is a discussion going on in (the Republican) caucus right now that is private and confidential,” Chase said. “There are a number of grassroots senators who are OK with the press being on the floor, but we want to have a united front.”

Levine has already made moves to have his staff videotape the subcommittee and committee proceedings involving his bills.

“We’re just doing my bills. If other people want to videotape their bills, that’s completely up to them. Amanda and I obviously encourage them to do that. We want them to join this standard and do that … but we’re not going to presume to tape other people’s bills,” Levine said.

“For all of my bills, my staff is going to come in, we’re going to take it, we’re going to put it on YouTube … That’s as accessible to the public as we know. Every bill that goes before subcommittee or committee, whether it lives or dies – people will know what happened to the bill and why.”

Chase said she also will post the videos on Facebook and on her own website.

Del. John Bell, D-Chantilly, also supports the caucus.

“I believe in transparency,” he said. “My service here will be based on three things: integrity first, service before self and excellent in all we do.

“I believe integrity is absolutely the foundation of good government. While we may disagree sometimes on issues, I think we all must be transparent in what we do and what we believe.”

Bell said it’s crucial to open legislative panels to people “who can’t always travel to Richmond. It’s critically important. I’m a big believer in transparency. I applaud my colleagues and others who are taking steps towards transparency. It’s just good government.”

Legislators from both sides of the aisle are supporting the Transparency Caucus. They include Democratic Dels. Mark Keam of Vienna and Steve Heretick of Portsmouth and Republican Sen. Thomas Garrett of Hadensville.

“I have reached out to many, many others, and as names come in, I’ll let you know. But obviously, this is the seed. And from the seed, we hope grows a very large oak tree,” Levine said. “Our hope is that 140 people join. But it has to start somewhere, and we’re glad to be that start.”

Garrett said transparency ensures that the government “works for the people, not the other way around.”

Capital News Service is a student-operated news reporting program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.

For more Virginia General Assembly coverage, visit the In the Rotunda section.

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