Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Dysfunction in Richmond

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Dysfunction in Richmond

In previous letters, I have talked about the need to revise sections of the Virginia Code covering removal of elected officials for cause. Summarizing, until 2018, these laws were construed based upon the 1989 opinion of Virginia Attorney General Mary Sue Terry to refrain from requiring voters signing the petition for removal to sign it under penalty of perjury. Only the people who prepared the petition and submitted it to a Court were required to sign under penalty of perjury to verify as true the facts alleged against the elected official.

In 2018, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the Attorney General opinion and required, going forward, that all the voters signing the petition (10 percent of the number of voters who voted for the office in question during the most recent election) must sign it under penalty of perjury. This change essentially made elected officials invulnerable to removal because it would be next to impossible to obtain the signatures of enough voters if they were required to verify the allegations in the petition where they did not personally conduct the investigation. Thus, a simple legislative fix is necessary, merely amending these laws to state that registered voters signing the petition are not required to sign under penalty of perjury.

I approached our local delegate, Paul Krizek (D-44th), and asked him to propose a bill on this subject. I commend him for doing so and, at his request, I traveled to Richmond on Jan. 23 to testify in favor of passage of his House Bill 842.

We have all heard about the dysfunction of our General Assembly caused by their extremely short legislative season. I experienced that dysfunction first-hand. As I sat in the hearing room of the Campaign Finance Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, I observed members of the Subcommittee coming and going because they had simultaneous hearings in different committees and subcommittees. Thus, although the subcommittee has six members and one ex officio member, when the time came for the vote on the bill, only four of them were present. The vote was 2-2 with Delegate Krizek and Subcommittee Chairman David Reid voting in favor. Later, the vote was corrected to show three in opposition and it was later explained to me that the third vote against had been pre-cast by one of the members of the subcommittee before even hearing the testimony. They left the hearing to travel to another hearing.

What is the penalty for this dysfunction? The penalty is that the bill died in subcommittee and cannot be resurrected until 2021. This is a heavy price to pay for the dysfunction of our General Assembly and I wrote this letter so that citizens and voters are apprised of this issue and hopefully will make their feelings known so that something can be done about it. Perhaps, the salaries of General Assembly members ought to be raised and the legislative session be extended by several weeks so that members of the various committees can attend each hearing without having to leave to attend another hearing. The issues facing citizens of the Commonwealth are too important to be given short shrift by our legislators.

Given the high bar for obtaining signatures of voters under penalty of perjury on a petition seeking removal of a politician who violates their oath of office or commits a crime, these elected officials are now essentially invulnerable until at least a year from now. This scenario is grossly disreputable and serious reform ought to be on the table.

Once more, I thank Delegate Krizek for carrying the water on an important issue that should have received fair consideration in the subcommittee but, frankly, didn't. Fair consideration would have likely met with success.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon