This is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts about the day-to-day events happening at the General Assembly. With these posts, I hope to give insight into what I am thinking as I come to my decisions, the principles that inform them, and provide clarity for what the job is really like.
Yesterday was the first day of the 2020 Virginia Senate session. Our first day on the floor is when we vote to open the session, fund the session, set up the rules for both houses, agree on how the houses will work together, and set up committee assignments.
The majority party gets to determine who is on the committees, as it should be because the people voted them into the majority. Committees are where the real work of the Commonwealth gets done. Committee meetings are where debate happens, where the public has the opportunity to speak to legislation, where agency reports are presented, and also where bills are killed so the rest of the body never gets to see them. These committees are where the real process of a representative government works. About 95% of the time, once a bill leaves committee and gets to the Senate floor we have already come to an agreement on the bill.
There is no doubt that strategy and political jockeying happen in the legislature. We all know this. However, the Virginians who elect us expect us to have a robust conversation about each issue. We are expected to, and should, have debates about our differences in opinions and come to resolutions that reflect those conversations. This is how we pass legislation that best represents the diversity of our constituencies.
The committee assignments proposed yesterday by the majority party are not representative of our Commonwealth. For instance, the Senate Commerce and Labor committee has only 3 Republicans and 12 Democrats.This year’s committees do not offer geographic representation for Virginia, which is a priority of our rules.
Because of these committee appointments, there are people in Virginia who have no representative voice in some of the most important money committees like Finance and Commerce and Labor. Southwest Virginia in particular needs to be represented in the conversation because their challenges are so unique compared to the rest of Virginia. Bottom line, the majority has the votes to pass and kill the bills that they want. However, excluding portions of Virginia from even having a voice in this debate should not be part of the process.
I understand that in the past, Republicans have created committees that were weighed in their favor. I get that Democrats now have control and can do the same. I was not in the Senate when this decision was made, and I would not have supported it. I know turnabout is fair play, but I also know that two wrongs do not make a right. Creating the opportunity for debate in committees that represent all of Virginia is the right thing to do and what should have been done.