Speaker Howell announces steps to improve transparency in state budget process

bill howellVirginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) announced a series of actions Friday to improve transparency in the budget-making process.

In a memo to the members of the House of Delegates, Speaker Howell announced that the House of Delegates will wait 48 hours prior to voting on the final budget conference report and will provide members with a comprehensive list of all (i) non-state agency requests, (ii) new items in the conference report not included in the budget originally passed by either chamber and (iii) items similar to legislation that failed in either chamber.

Speaker Howell also announced that he has asked House Majority Leader Kirk Cox to begin the process of incorporating these changes into the House rules and procedures.

“During my tenure as Speaker, it has been my goal to continually improve the legislative process and provide greater efficiency and transparency with regard to the policies and rules of the legislature,” Howell writes in the memo. “I am confident that these actions will improve the efficiency of the House and provide greater transparency for the general public.”

The concepts embodied in these actions result from legislation introduced by Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Scott), Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge) and Delegate John O’Bannon (R-Henrico). House Bill 1865, introduced by Delegate Kilgore, would require legislation with a local fiscal impact to be introduced prior to or on the first day of session.  House Bill 2076, introduced by Delegate Cline, would require the budget conference report to be posted online for at least 48 hours before a final vote can be taken.  House Bill 2202, introduced by Delegate O’Bannon, would require the Appropriations Committee to make available a detailed report of items included in the conference report, specifically appropriations to non-state agencies, items not included in either chamber’s original budget or items similar to legislation that failed in either chamber.

“I want to thank Delegate Terry Kilgore, Delegate Ben Cline and Delegate John O’Bannon for the ideas they proposed,” said Speaker Howell. “These are good ideas that should be incorporated into the procedures and rules of the House.”

In the memo, Speaker Howell outlines why the House should implement these changes via the House rules rather than implementing them through the Code of Virginia.

“In my opinion, seeking to amend or enact sections in the Code of Virginia relative to legislative processes and procedures needlessly invites interference by the executive branch and infringes on the independence of this body to settle its own rules of procedure as provided for by our state Constitution. Accordingly, I believe the best method to accomplish the good ideas embodied in these bills is to implement them ourselves,” the memo says.

“As Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, I am committed to continuing our efforts to improve the budget process by making it more efficient and transparent,” said Delegate Chris Jones (R-Suffolk). “Since I became Chairman, we have worked to increase the involvement of members and citizens in the budget process. These commonsense steps build on that work.”

“An open and transparent budget process is critical,” said Delegate Ben Cline. “These are positive steps that will increase accountability by giving legislators and citizens time to review the budget conference report.”

Delegate John O’Bannon said, “Our work as public servants should be open to review by those we serve. This policy will result in a more transparent budget and give citizens a better opportunity to have their voices heard. I am pleased we are implementing this immediately.”

The full memo can be found here.

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