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Posted at 12:09 PM ET, 01/13/2011

On legislative transparency, Virginia plays catch-up

By Paige Winfield Cunningham

I've found the most hilarious bill filed for the Virginia General Assembly session that began yesterday, thanks to the bill-tracking Web site Richmond Sunlight.

It's a House resolution to commend a Hampton high school for launching an ... anti-sagging campaign? No, it's not an effort to promote face-lifts; it's got to do with those extremely low-rise pants that subject upright citizens to undesirable sightings of teenagers', um, drawers. Apparently, the senior class president of Kecoughtan High School initiated the campaign last March to teach students that they can't wear saggy pants and be successful in the real world.

Del. Algie T. Howell Jr. (D-Norfolk) is apparently thrilled that a youngster is taking up the torch. Back in 2005, he introduced legislation that would have imposed a $50 fine on people who showed their underwear in a "lewd or indecent manner." While the bill failed, maybe Howell will at least succeed in his efforts this year to officially commend Kecoughtan's anti-sagging campaign.

Obviously, most bills aren't so amusing. But Richmond Sunlight makes them all accessible and incredibly easy to track. You can look up bills by number, topic, legislator and year and view at a glance whether they've made it through committee, been voted on by the House or Senate or been signed into law by the governor.

Waldo Jaquith, the 31-year-old brains behind the site, created it to be interactive as well. Visitors can comment on bills. And there's a new feature this year called Photosynthesis, where you can sign up and make public the bills you're tracking. Here's my list.

Jaquith created the site about four years ago because he was frustrated with the deficiencies of the state's official site: the Legislative Information System. While the LIS has recently received a makeover, it still doesn't offer easy access to legislators' voting records. While you can look up records by bill number, you can't view them by name.

Dels. Jim LeMunyon (R-Fairfax) and Mark Keam (D-Fairfax) are trying to remedy that by floating a bill that would require all votes taken by House and Senate members to be displayed online and be searchable by member name.

That's great -- except that you can already do that at Richmond Sunlight. If the LIS is going to start playing catch-up with Sunlight, it's got a lot of miles to travel. It will need to create member profiles that show maps of their districts, how much they work with the opposite party and the percentage of bills they actually get passed -- to name just a few components.

Paige Winfield Cunningham is an investigative reporter and managing editor at Old Dominion Watchdog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Paige Winfield Cunningham  | January 13, 2011; 12:09 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia  
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