Outside voices call for ‘long overdue’ ‘good governance’ reform at Virginia General Assembly

 In recent years, Virginia’s state Legislature has featured a narrow political divide. But many of its committees that play a key role in shaping legislation — not so much.

In about half of the General Assembly’s committees, membership is not based on proportional seating, creating a dynamic in which the majority party has sometimes been wildly overrepresented. Democrats who controlled the Senate with 55% of its membership — a 22-18 majority — during this year’s session wielded an 11-5 majority in the chamber’s powerful budget-writing panel, for example. Another influential committee that shapes energy and business-related bills was stacked 12-3.

It’s a practice that effectively weakens the voice of the minority and moderates who might buck the party line. It’s also one some government observers say should come to an end in January when the General Assembly — with its membership and party control to be determined in next month’s elections — convenes for the 2024 Legislative Session.

“That one change will help restore trust in our governing institutions. It’s not only the fair, just, and right thing to do, it’s also long overdue,” Craig Parisot, the chair of the pro-business nonprofit Virginia FREE, wrote in a recent opinion piece after the group issued a call for proportional seating on all legislative committees, subcommittees and commissions.

The Associated Press sought comment from the current and prospective leaders of both parties in both chambers about the practice.

Leaders of both parties in the House of Delegates, where the rules call for proportional representation on all committees and subcommittees but one, said they would not seek a change from the status quo next year. But in the Senate, where the panels have been unequally stacked for years, leaders either offered no comment or no firm commitment on the issue.

In the House, proportionality is a practice that’s been in place for close to 25 years.

It began after Democrats lost a long-held majority in the 1997 election, leading to two years of power sharing. Then Republicans formally adopted proportional representation in 2000 with their new majority, according to previous news accounts, and that’s been upheld even as the majority has vacillated between the two parties.

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