Archive for February, 2008

On The Videos on Richmond Sunlight

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

The decision of Richmond Sunlight to put video of the floor sessions of both the House and Senate online is an attempt to provide additional access for the general public to floor debate and the legislative process.  Like our elected officials, we want to combat voter apathy and encourage civic participation to ensure our great democracy stands strong and representative.

Our hope is that additional sunlight on Richmond’s debates will facilitate community conversations, online or offline, about the vital issues challenging our Commonwealth and we welcome the continuing opportunities associated with providing this service to the general public.

House Video Included on Richmond Sunlight

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

On the heels of adding Senate video to Richmond Sunlight, we’re pleased to announce the addition of House video, found in the new Minutes section of the site. Like Senate videos, the House videos are sprinkled throughout the site, with links provided from each bill page to every video that includes mention of the bill.

This entire video project is made possible by a grant from The Sunlight Foundation, which has provided us with the money necessary to purchase daily session DVDs from the House Clerk’s office.

Senate Video Included on Richmond Sunlight

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

We’re excited to present an important new feature on Richmond Sunlight: complete, unedited video of the Senate floor sessions. It’s one thing to read about what’s going on in the legislature, but it’s another entirely to be able to watch. Though the Senate already provides live video, this new video is archived for the ages, integrated with the rest of Richmond Sunlight, and uploaded to Google Video for anybody to download, remix, embed, sample, and otherwise play with. All of this is possible thanks to a generous grant from The Sunlight Foundation (no relation), which has provided us with the money necessary to purchase daily session DVDs from the Senate Clerk’s office and free them for everybody to have.

These videos will be added to each day’s official minutes, which we’re now archiving (see the Senate’s February 13th minutes, for instance), going back to the beginning of the session. And each bill’s page will report the days in which a bill came up on the floor of the Senate and thus may well have been discussed on video — see, for example, Del. Matt Lohr’s HB886.

Here is, to demonstrate, the video for last Thursday:

Clicking on that little Google Video icon in the lower right hand corner will take you to Google Video’s page for that Senate video, where you can find a link to embed the video on your own site or e-mail it to a friend.

It will take us a week or so to get the contents all of these DVDs up onto Google Video and integrated into the site, but expect to see more and more video archived on and integrated with the site each day.

Crossover Leaves Bills Orphaned

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Tuesday’s marathon General Assembly session was a result of it being “crossover,” the deadline for bills in either chamber to make it over to the opposite chamber. Any House bill that didn’t make it to the Senate (or vice versa) yesterday cannot become law. As a result, a great many bills fell victims to the time crunch. Though those bills are listed as “dead” on Richmond Sunlight, a peek at the detailed status listing will reveal that many were “Left in Appropriations,” or whatever committee didn’t finish with it in time. Those bills that did make the cut are listed as “Communicated to Senate” or “Communicated to House.”

It’s worth noting that crossover is a popular method of dispatching bills. When a committee wants to kill a bill, but doesn’t want to be blamed for doing so, they’ll simply fail to take action on it by the time crossover comes around. If they’re feeling extra sneaky, just a few days before crossover they’ll assign the bill to another committee…one that doesn’t meet before crossover.

In the few weeks left in the session, each chamber will consider the bills already passed by the opposite chamber. Often they’ll be amended somewhat, and so a team will have to match the two up and reconcile them, and then they get passed along to the governor for his signature. But we’ll talk about that next month.

How to Visit the General Assembly

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Interested in visiting the General Assembly? We’re exactly halfway finished with the sixty day session, so you’ve got a month left. The legislature’s website provides all sorts of information that will help you with your visit, including how to plan your visit, how to get an official tour, and how to testify before a committee. There’s even an extensive protocol guide, providing a Miss Manners-style guide to how to address legislators, how to invite the governor to an event, and how to mourn the death of a sitting legislator. (Let’s hope you won’t need to know that last one.) If all else fails, contact one of your legislators. He’ll be happy to help you plan your visit.

Richmond Sunlight Reaches 100,000 Visits

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

We hit a small milestone a few days ago: 100,000 cumulative visits to the website and, in the same day, 500,000 cumulative pages viewed. That’s all come during the thirteen short months in which Richmond Sunlight has existed. We’re grateful to those all of you visiting and promoting Richmond Sunlight. With the rate at which traffic has picked up in the past few weeks, we should reach the 200,000 mark in considerably less than another year.

Legislators Disclose Gifts Received

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Members of the General Assembly are required to disclose at the end of each year from whom they’ve received gifts worth $50 or more. The Virginia Public Access Project has just posted the 2007 list. Cumulative gift values seem to average out just south of $1,000, consisting mostly of tickets to university football games, meals, and admission to events at which the legislators themselves are often the draw. Sen. Ken Stolle (R-VA Beach) and Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington) come in at the top of their respective chambers with $11,142 and $10,736, respectively. The bulk of Stolle’s gifts came in the form of a pair of Texas deer hunting trips courtesy of the Virginia Sheriffs Association, while Ebbin received dozens of smaller contributions from a variety of organizations. There are a few hunting trips and vacations sprinkled among the 140 legislators, but mostly the disclosures serve as a record of events attended and cheap gifts bestowed. About $100k of reimbursements were provided from state money to legislators who attended legislative conferences.

The Associated Press’ Bob Lewis asked Sen. Tommy Norment whether his voting could be influenced by his all-expenses-paid hunting trip, to which Norment told Lewis that he’s “disappointed in [his] professionalism” for daring ask such a question. The Richmond Times Dispatch’s Tyler Whitley named the legislators who disclosed the most and least, finding that Del. Phil Hamilton (R-Newport News), Del. Glenn Oder (R-Newport News) and Sen. Roscoe Reynolds (D-Henry) had done especially good jobs of listing every possible gift, and that Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) was one of several legislators who listed gifts and events without actually saying what the gifts or events were. And Anita Kumar at the Washington Post conducted a study of the disclosures and found that 23 legislators declared no gifts at all and that the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association and Institute’s $16k in gifts was more than any other business or organization, followed by the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, Dominion Resources and Altria.