Though a slew of ethics reform bills were introduced, most prompted by the aborted investigation into former Del. Phil Hamilton and the relationship between his job at an ODU teaching facility and legislative funding, only a few made it through to the chamber floors. Some were rolled into others, some were amended beyond recognition, and some died.
The most prominent among the remaining bills came from Del. Ward Armstrong (D-Martinsville), and it will make the hearings of an ethics investigation panel open to the public, and make the panel’s records open, too.
The bill faced several hurdles along the way, including a House subcommittee hearing whose agenda was not posted until after the meeting took place. Attempts were made on the House floor to send the bill back to the Courts of Justice Committee, where the evidentiary standard for a complaint could be assessed (preponderance of the evidence vs. probable cause). In the Senate, a proposed amendment would have required citizens to file complaints through a legislator, instead of on their own. And all along there were the familiar rumblings that, like grand jury proceedings, perhaps the process would be better off behind closed doors.
The bill also makes clear that an investigation may continue even if a legislator resigns or loses a reelection bid (both of which Hamilton did).
Luckily, most legislators understood that the public really needs to see the light shining on this process if they are to have any faith in the legislative body’s ability to police itself.
Only Dickie Bell (R-Staunton), Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg), Bill Cleaveland (R-Roanoke), Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg), Tom Gear (R-Hampton), Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth), Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City), Harvey Morgan (R-Gloucester) and Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) in the House, and Harry Blevins (R-Chesapeake) and Fred Quayle (R-Suffolk) in the Senate voted against the measure.
See the chart at left for more access-related bills.