Ken Plum: Behind a single vote

kenplum2I voted for the Conference Committee Report on the FY2016 budget even though I did not particularly like it. Earlier I voted against the House version of the budget. There were some major provisions I did not like about either one. Neither accepted the more than a billion dollars available for Medicaid expansion that would have insured nearly 400,000 working poor Virginians and would have freed up state monies for other programs. Neither version did enough for education. The conference report did expand mental health services and left some funds for preschool and for state employee and teacher raises. My conclusion was to vote for the conference committee report for it was the best we were going to be able to get.

Voting in the legislature is like that. You fight all you can for the issues in which you believe, but in the end state government has to continue so you vote for the best compromise you can get. I did not think the ethics bill reported from a House committee was strong enough, and I voted against it. The conference report improved it somewhat, and I voted for it as being better than current law and a beginning on which we can make improvements in the future. I voted for the several bills that are making incremental improvement in reducing testing and other mandates in the public schools, but we need to continue in that direction in future years.

Most bills are voted on several times: in subcommittee and full committee, with amendments or a substitute, for engrossment and passage to third reading, maybe with amendments from the other house and a conference committee report, and sometimes amendments or a possible veto from the Governor. Virginia legislators vote hundreds of times. You can follow the tortured path some bills take before passage as well as legislators’ votes at lis.virginia.gov. During the course of the legislative trail, bills get amended in sometimes small and other times major ways. Legislators sometimes are criticized for voting both ways on bills, but that happens as bills are modified. While bills may keep their same number, they can through amendment be changed significantly. Obviously persons not familiar with the process can become confused as to one’s stand on the issue, and political operatives can misuse voting information to confuse voters.

While bills may change in their specifics, they must remain consistent with the purpose as found in the bill’s title. All amendments must be germane to the purpose, and a bill can address only one purpose or object. Hence there are no “Christmas tree” bills in the Virginia legislature. The meaning of a vote can only be discerned within the context of which it is cast. The process is fast in order for more than 2500 bills and resolutions to be considered in less than 45 days. I have been pleased to work over many years to make the legislative process transparent in order that citizens can understand what is behind a single vote.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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