The Case of the Vanishing Bill

House Speaker William J. Howell and his Republican leadership say they rewrote the rules to make the process more efficient.
House Speaker William J. Howell and his Republican leadership say they rewrote the rules to make the process more efficient. (By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post)

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 16, 2006

For those curious about what happened to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's slow-growth proposals, you're out of luck.

Go ahead. Log on to the state legislature's Web site at http://legis.state.va.us . Type "HB1610" into the site's search box and hit "enter." What you will see is: "01/27/06 House: Referred to Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns."

In fact, much more has happened to the bill, which would give local governments more power to control growth if nearby roads were not sufficient: It's dead. But because of new rules adopted by the House Republican majority, it's unlikely there will be an official record of its demise.

On Feb. 8 at 7:30 a.m., a House subcommittee met in House Room D, heard no testimony and effectively killed the bill without the presence of the patron, who was out ill with a sore throat. The voice vote was 9 to 2.

In the past, that bill would have been referred to the full committee -- Counties, Cities and Towns -- with a negative recommendation. The full committee would have voted, and the vote would have been recorded for posterity and reflected on the Internet and in paper records.

This year, House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and his caucus changed all that. They empowered subcommittees to have the final say over legislation, with the explanation that doing so would make the legislative process more efficient.

It has certainly made killing a bill more efficient.

Take the minimum-wage bill submitted by House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax). House Bill 539 would have raised the minimum wage from $5.15 to $8.15 by 2008. It was debated -- and defeated -- in a subcommittee of the House Committee on Commerce and Labor.

It was another early-morning vote that ended Callahan's efforts to increase the minimum wage.

But its demise is shrouded in secrecy, unlike a similar bill that died in the Senate in 2004. Sen. Yvonne B. Miller's Senate Bill 22, which would have raised the minimum wage to $6.50, was defeated in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee by a vote of 12 to 2. If you want, you can see who the 12 were and who the two were.

The official record is equally silent about what happened to House Bill 109, sponsored by Virginia Beach Del. Harry R. Purkey (R), who was attempting to give some urban local governments the right once again to use cameras to catch red-light runners.

Officially, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety on Dec. 22. As far as the state is concerned, no further action has been taken on the bill.


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