Current Weather Conditions

 
Seven Day Forecast for Emporia, Virginia
 

Community Calendar Sponsored By...

 

Owen FitzGerald

Live-Streaming Fosters Transparency in the General Assembly

By Owen FitzGerald, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — As legislators gather in Richmond for the 2019 General Assembly session, citizens in the far corners of the commonwealth might feel distanced from their elected representatives. But any computer or cellphone user with internet access can watch live and recorded video of state lawmakers in action.

The House and Senate each live-stream their committee meetings and floor sessions. And the advocacy group Progress Virginia broadcasts subcommittee meetings over the internet.

ProgressVA launched its Eyes on Richmond project in 2017 before the legislative session. Initially, the program live-streamed both committee and subcommittee meetings — because at the time, the House and Senate provided video only of their floor sessions. Since then, state officials have started live-streaming the committees; so ProgressVA now focuses on subcommittees.

The importance of public access to subcommittee meetings cannot be overstated, as many important pieces of legislation are often killed at that level. Anna Scholl, executive director at ProgressVA, said the results of subcommittee votes would often remain unknown to the public.

“When we started Eyes on Richmond,” Scholl said, “it was standard for bills to pass or fail on unrecorded voice votes, and it was often impossible to know how a particular legislator voted on important bills unless you were in the room when it happened.”

That is why ProgressVA has put “legislative fellows” – college interns – in the room, equipped with a cellphone and tripod to provide live online video of government meetings.

Program Director Ashleigh Crocker said live-streaming the subcommittee-level meetings allows citizens to engage with their representatives as they decide the fate of legislation.

“We thought it was really important that citizens from across the Commonwealth be able to know how legislators were voting when they were coming to Richmond to represent them,” Crocker said.

In its first year, the Eyes on Richmond program won the Virginia Coalition for Open Government’s Laurence E. Richardson’s Citizen Award. The coalition, along with ProgressVA, is a part of Transparency Virginia, a collection of advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations assembled to promote transparency in the General Assembly on every level.

Both the House and Senate began recording and archiving committee meetings during the 2018 session in response to a bipartisan effort from the Virginia Transparency Caucus, co-founded by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. Likewise, the House of Delegates began recording subcommittee votes in 2018 following a push from the Transparency Caucus.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said the General Assembly has done a commendable job retrofitting meeting rooms to allow for the recording and streaming of committee meetings. But the work of ProgressVA to give citizens insight into subcommittee meetings has been vital to the cause of transparency in the state government, Rhyne added.

“General Assembly transparency is important because it is the work of the people,” Rhyne said. “They are making decisions that affect us as individuals and as workers and as members of various organizations and groups.”

How to watch the General Assembly online

House floor sessions:

https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/house/chamber/chamberstream.php

House committee meetings:

https://publications.virginiageneralassembly.gov/display_publication/209

Senate committee meetings and floor sessions:

https://virginia-senate.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3

Subcommittee meetings covered by ProgressVA:

https://eyesonrichmond.org/

 

Gov. Northam Backs Plan to Fund I-81 Improvements with Tolls

Gov. Northam, backed by a bipartisan group of legislators, introduces the I-81 Corridor Improvement Fund, a program that would use tolls to fund nearly $4 billion of estimated improvements to the interstate.

By Owen FitzGerald, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Flanked by a bipartisan group of state legislators, Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans Tuesday to move forward with legislation that would use tolls to fund improvements on Interstate 81.

I-81 spans 325 miles across western Virginia, connects six metro areas and links 30 institutions of higher education.

The program, known as the I-81 Corridor Improvement Fund, would be supported by tolls along the expanse of the interstate. Owners of cars and small trucks would be able to purchase an annual pass for a fixed yearly fee of $30.

“Interstate 81 is the economic engine of western Virginia, and it’s time we take decisive action to enhance the safety and improve the reliability of this key corridor,” Northam said.

Northam said I-81 has a “clear safety problem,” with an average of about 2,000 crashes annually, including 45 vehicular accidents that took more than four hours to clear.

The chief patrons of the legislation are Republican Sens. Mark Obenshain of Rockingham and Charles Carrico of Grayson. Three other legislators — all Republicans with districts intersected by I-81 — are also sponsoring the proposal: Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta, Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier, and Del. Richard Bell of Staunton.

A yearlong study by the Commonwealth Transportation Board concluded that the I-81 corridor needs $2.2 billion of improvements. The governor said these changes would prevent 450 crashes each year.

The improvements seek to enhance traffic safety and reliability along the interstate, where an estimated 11 million commercial trucks travel annually.

Other interstates currently have dedicated funding sources. Regional taxes and tolls are used to fund improvements to those roadways, the governor said.

The tolls implemented along the I-81 corridor, which are currently drafted at 17 cents per mile, would be among the lowest in the nation — the second cheapest east of the Mississippi River, according to Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine. The exact price of tolls along the interstate would be determined at a later date by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

The governor, along with Obenshain and Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, stressed that the program is designed to remove the “undue burden” of citizens who live along the I-81 corridor.

“The hard-working citizens in the communities on the I-81 Corridor deserve a viable, long-term solution to the challenges of travel along this route,” Landes said. “A focus on key improvements and dedicated funding for the corridor will positively affect those who rely on it every day.”

Obenshain added, “We have a tremendous opportunity to address long-standing issues on the I-81 Corridor. I will continue to work with the Northam administration and with my colleagues in the General Assembly in hope that we can find bipartisan solutions to the critical reliability and safety issues in this region of the Commonwealth.”

Members of Virginia’s congressional delegation believe that I-81 needs an additional $2 billion in improvements beyond those proposed by state officials, Landes said. He said the additional improvements would require funding from the federal government.

“It’s an interstate system, not an ‘intra-state’ system,” Landes said.

The I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan can be found at www.va81corridor.org.

Gov. Northam Touts Bills on Voting Rights and Campaign Financing

By Owen FitzGerald, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam introduced two legislative proposals at a press conference Monday aimed at improving voting access and transparency in the campaign finance system.

One proposal would allow Virginians to vote absentee without having to provide an excuse — legislation the governor said would reduce crowds at the polls on Election Day.  The current law, which Northam called “arbitrary,” requires citizens to give one of 20 reasons to vote absentee.

Northam said that voting in the days before an election is “just as American” as waiting in line at the polls and that similar proposals have been made since the 1990s.  Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate (SB 1035) and Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, is sponsoring it in the House (HB 1641).

The Democratic governor also endorsed legislation to repeal the Virginia law requiring voters to present a photo ID to be able to cast their vote.

“While photo ID laws are intended to reduce voter fraud, very little such voter fraud actually exists,” Northam said.  “Instead of fixing the problem, the photo ID law just makes it harder for people, especially minority voters or low-income voters, to lawfully vote.”

This proposal will be sponsored by Locke and Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax.

The Democrats also want legislation that limits campaign donations and restricts how candidates can spend political contributions.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, is sponsoring legislation (SB 1146) that would limit individual donations to $10,000 per candidate during a given election cycle. Virginia is one of only 11 remaining states that have no limits on campaign contributions.

“There’s too much big money in politics,” Petersen said. “We need some reasonable limits on what people can contribute in order to keep the process honest.”

A second proposal to be sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman would ban corporate and business campaign donations.  It also would ban corporations or businesses from making direct contributions to their own political action committees.

“Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to reform campaign finance laws by banning direct corporate and business donations,” Guzman stated. “Virginians want legislators who represent their interests, and this reform will foster more trust in the legislative process.”

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, is the sponsor of a bill (HB 1699) to ban candidates from using campaign money for personal expenses.

A spokesman for the Republican Party said GOP officials would not comment on the legislation until they had read over the proposals in full.

Subscribe to RSS - Owen FitzGerald

Emporia News

Stories on Emporianews.com are be searchable, using the box above. All new stories will be tagged with the date (format YYYY-M-D or 2013-1-1) and the names of persons, places, institutions, etc. mentioned in the article. This database feature will make it easier for those people wishing to find and re-read an article.  For anyone wishing to view previous day's pages, you may click on the "Previous Day's Pages" link in the menu at the top of the page, or search by date (YYYY-M-D format) using the box above.

Comment Policy:  When an article or poll is open for comments feel free to leave one.  Please remember to be respectful when you comment (no foul or hateful language, no racial slurs, etc) and keep our comments safe for work and children. Comments are moderated and comments that contain explicit or hateful words will be deleted.  IP addresses are tracked for comments. 

EmporiaNews.com serves Emporia and Greensville County, Virginia and the surrounding area
and is provided as a community service by the Advertisers and Sponsors.
All material on EmporiaNews.com is copyright 2005-2019
EmporiaNews.com is powered by Drupal and based on the ThemeBrain Sirate Theme.

Submit Your Story!

Emporia News welcomes your submissions!  You may submit articles, announcements, school or sports information using the submission forms found here, or via e-mail on news@emporianews.com.  Currently, photos and advertisements will still be accepted only via e-mail, but if you have photos to go along with your submission, you will receive instructions via e-mail. If you have events to be listed on the Community Calendar, submit them here.

Contact us at news@emporianews.com
 
EmporiaNews.com is hosted as a community Service by Telpage.  Visit their website at www.telpage.net or call (434)634-5100 (NOTICE: Telpage cannot help you with questions about Emporia New nor does Teplage have any input the content of Emporia News.  Please use the e-mail address above if you have any questions, comments or concerns about the content on Emporia News.)