Another Transparency Victory (Or, A Legislative Journey: The Life And Times Of HB 2285)Feb 27, 2009
As a follow-up to yesterday's victory for reform, government spending transparency and accountability with our hard-earned tax dollars, late last night the House version of the spending transparency bill, HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge), was approved by both chambers unanimously. It is on its way to Governor Tim Kaine's desk to sign, amend and send back, or veto. Along with SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), these two Family Foundation priority bills, if they become law, will allow Virginians, over time, to track government spending on contracts, the vendors the state pays and for which work they do, as well as other important information; and allow us to be able to more easily track such items online.
Just as with SB 936, HB 2285 did not receive a single negative vote throughout its legislative journey which included: Two House committees, a House sub-committee, a House floor vote, a Senate sub-committee, a Senate committee, a Senate floor vote on accepting a substitute, a Senate floor vote, a House vote to accept the Senate substitute and reject an extra Senate amendment, and a final floor vote in the Senate (last night) to accept the House's rejection of that amendment.
I know it sounds confusing, but it makes an important point: just because a bill gets a unanimous vote, it doesn't mean it was easy to accomplish. Even popular and just ideas are difficult to get passed and can come unraveled in a moment. For example, both patrons deserve a great deal of credit for their patience and parliamentary skill. They adapted the bills at strategic points to fight off bogus fiscal impact statements which would have doomed them as "too costly" to adopt. Grassroots activists also deserve much credit for staying informed on the issue and contacting their senators and delegates along the way. Click here to get a taste of this Byzantine, egg-shell-walking process.
One simple example of the improvement these bills will bring is that a link to the Commonwealth DataPoint Web site will have to be put on the state government's homepage. Right now, if you are not a policy wonk, and don't know the name Commonwealth DataPoint, or don't know that it's on the Auditor of Public Accounts' Web site, you can't even begin to find what limited information is state government offers. So, imagine — it takes an entire act of the General Assembly just for a simple Web link! So, you know what we go through on controversial legislation. (Click here and scroll down to see a Sunshine Review's report on the current status of Virginia's online transparency. Hint: not good.)
For years, it has been very difficult to determine for what and to whom the state contracts and pays for services, not to mention what spending is duplicated and otherwise wasted — and whether it is spent on nefarious groups such as Planned Parenthood. It took almost the entire session, but these are major victories. That said, at least we had one humorous moment in this process, appropriately, near the end. If you haven't checked out yesterday's QOD, click here to read about the House "debate" on HB 2285.