Archive for January, 2009

Richmond Sunlight for the iPhone

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

There’s a great new Richmond Sunlight feature that we’ve been testing out for this first half of the 2009 session: Richmond Sunlight for the iPhone. It’s a stripped-down version of the site, optimized to run on your iPhone or iPod Touch, that lists legislators and bills. It’s just past the proof-of-concept of stage, and probably not useful to the great majority of people. But if you’re the kind person who must know the latest status of a bill, or whether a particular senator’s district includes a particular city, this is for you. It’s also a great companion when you’re sitting in the gallery of the House or the Senate, watching the proceedings, and wanting more details than what’s at hand. Remember the URL—m.richmondsunlight.com—or bookmark it on your iPhone.

Charniele Herring Seated in House

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Democrat Charniele Herring was elected to represent Alexandria in the House of Delegates in a special election two weeks ago, but was prevented from taking her seat until yesterday. The Republican majority in the House contended that the margin in the election was too close to seat her without a recount, though the State Board of Elections had certified her as the winner. Every day, Democrats attempted to get her seated, and every day the vote would fail on a party line vote. When the recount was completed, it was determined that Herring had won the race, and she was sworn in accordingly.

Thanks to Our Sponsors

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Richmond Sunlight has a pair of benefactors who warrant thanks for their help.

The first is Hyphenated People, the website development shop who created our new look. They conceived of it, designed it, and coded it, and the result is a very sharp-looking, significantly more usable website than the beastly look that we’d hacked together in December of 2006.

The second is Blue Ridge InternetWorks, who provides the infrastructure that powers our website. We never could have forecast the popularity of Richmond Sunlight—600,000 page views in the past year, 150,000 visits—and our old $50/month web host couldn’t possibly keep up. Blue Ridge InternetWorks has given us a dedicated server and an absurdly fast internet connection for the low, low cost of free.

These sponsors helped because they’re committed to open government in Virginia. Each of them approached Richmond Sunlight and volunteered their services, and we’re enormously grateful to them.

Though they’re not sponsors in the financial sense, this is a good opportunity to thank the General Assembly’s IT staff and the clerks and their staffs of the respective chambers. The legislative data on Richmond Sunlight comes straight from the legislature’s database. Without these folks and their hard work, Richmond Sunlight would be impossible. We’re enormously grateful to them for their essential contributions to open government in Virginia.

Bills Recommended Just for You

Monday, January 19th, 2009

If you’re a dedicated researcher of legislation on Richmond Sunlight, consider paying a visit to the Recommended Bills section. This is an experimental feature on Richmond Sunlight that recommends bills that you might be interested in, given the bills that you’ve been reading. Try it out and let us know what you think!

Parties’ Tools Help You Follow the Session

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Every year there are more ways to follow the General Assembly online, and the Republican Party and Democratic Party are helping people to do that. Each party is embracing the internet to help people understand what’s going on during the session.

On the Republican side, the Republican Party of Virginia maintains a blog, a Twitter feed, and a YouTube channel. And the House Republican Caucus maintains a blog (which they label “un-official”) and a related Twitter feed.

And on the Democratic side, the Democratic Party of Virginia maintains a YouTube channel, while the House Democratic Caucus has a pair of blogs, one the voice of the caucus and one intermingling video and press releases.

If you’re interested in getting some help in sorting through what’s important during the session, consider using the information provided by Democrats or Republicans (or both!) to find the message in all of the noise.

House Declines to Seat Charniele Herring

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Democrat Charniele Herring was elected to represent Alexandria yesterday, replacing Del. Brian Moran, defeating Republican Joe Murray by a margin of just sixteen votes. The State Board of Elections certified Herring the winner. She arrived at the General Assembly to be sworn in today, but House Republicans blocked her from taking her seat. House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith says that the margin is simply too close, that it’s best to leave the district without representation rather than seat the wrong person, and that the House of Delegates should wait for the completion of a recount. Here is the video of the 38-minute discussion on the floor of the House.

House Increases Transparency

Friday, January 9th, 2009

There are two big changes in this year’s General Assembly session that will change significantly your ability to know what your legislators are doing, and both involve the House of Delegates catching up to the Senate.

The first is last month’s decision by House Republicans to end their practice of holding secret votes. Two years ago they stopped recording votes in subcommittees, arguing that it would make the House more efficient, and allowed subcommittees to vote to kill bills. That combination allowed bills to be defeated without any recorded vote. The only way to find out what happened to a bill would be to have been at the subcommittee meeting, some of which are held as early as 6:30 AM. House Republicans have agreed to allow legislative staff to record how subcommittee members have voted, and we’ll bring you the results of those votes here on Richmond Sunlight.

The second big change is today’s decision by House Republicans to provide audio and video of the House floor sessions. The leadership has long opposed allowing the public to observe their proceedings, arguing that it would lead to grandstanding on the House floor, and defeated bills introduced by Democrats and Republicans alike that would have changed that practice. (Note that the Senate provides a live video feed of floor sessions, and no such thing appears to have happened there as a result.) But House Speaker Bill Howell has apparently changed his mind, and the legislative staff is moving ahead with the provision of live, streaming audio of House sessions beginning with the new session.

House Republicans deserve a great deal of credit for these improvements. They’ll provide enormous benefits for citizens like you who want to keep up with the General Assembly and keep their government accountable.