Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Virginia General Assembly: House Bill 778 and Legislators' Voting Records

The Virginia Legislative Information System website (here), which is funded by the Commonwealth, provides a wealth of information about both (1) the content and (2) the status of pending and approved legislation.

From the perspective of this commentator, the LIS site holds up quite well (in terms of user-friendliness) when compared with other states' legislative databases and with "database websites" more generally.
LIS does not provide, however, an easy mechanism for reviewing all of an individual legislator's votes. Instead, assembling a list of a legislator's votes requires downloading the roll-call votes for each bill -- in other words, doing the legwork oneself.

Two freshmen members of the House of Delegates -- Republican Jim LeMunyon (from Chantilly) and Democrat Mark Keam (from Vienna) -- have proposed House Bill 778 to mandate that the state make the legislative database searchable by individual legislator.

It is difficult to object to HB 778's goal of increasing the transparency of the legislative process.

That said, Richmond Sunlight's excellent site (here) currently enables users to generate a spreadsheet -- with the push of one button -- that lists all of a legislator's votes for that session (or prior years' sessions), in addition to each bill's title, committee assignment, and status. In fact, Waldo Jaquith tells me that one of the reasons he created Richmond Sunlight was to offer the individual-legislator-functionality that's lacking at the LIS site.


The text of HB 778 reads in part:

The Legislative Support Commission ... shall publish on the legislative electronic information system a record, organized by member name (emphasis added) of the recorded committee, subcommittee, and floor votes of each member of the House of Delegates and the Senate on all legislation acted upon by each house. Electronic access to this information shall be made available to all agencies of the Commonwealth, its political subdivisions, and the public.

Delegates LeMunyon and Keam articulated the rationale for improving access to individual legislators' voting histories in a Washington Post editorial yesterday, here.

HB 778 passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 86-13 last week, and it's now been referred to the Senate's Rules Committee.