With all the talk about more transparency in the 2009 session of the General Assembly, such as House sub-committee votes going on record for the first time starting this session (see Richmond Times-Dispatch, here), and the brewing battle over putting the budget online in an easy, Google-search format, I stumbled upon an interesting element of non-transparency. Legislative Services a couple weeks back offered a refresher course in its Lobbyist-In-A-Box Web page to G.A. lobbyists, many of whom, by the way (at my session), were agency employees, something else disturbing on an altogether different level (try government bureaucrats lobbying your legislators, with your tax dollars, to regulate and tax you more, for example). But one disturbing trend at a time.
Lobbyist-In-A-Box is a great tool for the professional lobbyist as well as the grassroots activist, and anyone in the public can access it and use it to follow the progress of bills, who voted for what, amendments to bills, etc. The only difference between lobbyists and the general public is that with our registration, we can track unlimited bills at once; the public is limited to tracking five at once (although anyone can track as many bills at anytime individually outside of the automatically tracked five).
Coincidentally, a few days before the LIAB refresher course, a delegate asked us to come up with the amended form of HB 894, a bill last session patroned by Delegate Matt Lohr (R-26, Harrisonburg) that would have licensed abortion facilities. Although it easily passed the House with bipartisan support, it met the predictable outcome in the Senate Committee on Education and Health (aka, the Committee of Death). The amended form of the bill was offered to the committee by Delegate Lohr in an attempt to win passage by reducing the number of regulations his original bill required of abortion facilities to get a licence.
The substitute would have required less regulation than in last year's well-publicized "puppy mill bill" which passed and was signed into law. It would have required only annual cleanliness inspections and life saving equipment. This stripped-down version of the bill was voted down 10-5 on a procedural motion on a party line vote. Sad, but not surprising the Committee of Death would give preferential treatment to dogs over women.
Now, here is where the lack of legislative transparency and the life issue intersect: When our LIAB instructor gave us a "tour" of where to find and how to track amendments and legislative history, she assured us every change to every bill is on the Web site. However, days before, when I looked for the substitute for the delegate, it was not on the site. Interest peaked, I asked the instructor if she was sure all amendments were posted. She said yes.
I asked her to look up, for the class' edification, HB 894. I told her that Delegate Lohr had introduced a substitute but it was not posted. She tooled around the Web site and could not find it either, although another substitute, defeated on the House floor, was posted.
Hmmmmmmmmmmm. It gets curiouser and curiouser.
You see, the liberal dominated Committee of Death didn't want to look like it was voting down an elementary bill, which would give women more protection than puppies in a breeding facility. It would rather only post the original bill so it can boast to its radical abortionist/Planned Parenthood constituency that it shot down another radical right wing, anti-woman bill; not a simple, commonsense, I-can't-believe-that's-not-already-law bill, where they would appear to the general public as the incredibly out-of-touch, extreme, abortion-for-any-reason-at-any-stage pols they are.
The upshot to all this? Even as the instructor said, Ed and Health can do pretty much what it wants to do, protocol or not. That's why budget transparency and accountability, which go hand-in-hand, is crucial to the big picture. We need to know where and how much of our hard-earned tax money goes to organizations such as Planned Parenthood. It would be nice to shine the light on those in the Senate who are protecting that organization's state-sponsored ATM, even if the Committee of Death won't post all the information that's fit to post.
By the way, something anyone can find with a little research that not even Ed & Health can conceal: Eight senators on the Committee of Death last session voted for the puppy mill bill in other committees, enough to send HB 894 to the Senate floor.
Let's play "Find The HB 894 E&H Substitute:"