House Democrats kill Senate’s parole board transparency bills

House members pledge allegiance to the flag as the Virginia House of Delegates begins a special session inside the Siegel Center in Richmond, VA Tuesday, August 18, 2020. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/Pool)

Two bills aimed at bringing more transparency to the Virginia Parole Board won bi-partisan support in the Senate but died Tuesday at the hands of Democrats in the House of Delegates.

The bills, proposed by GOP senators upset by the board’s recent parole decisions, would have required board members to begin voting publicly and begin releasing monthly reports detailing who the board considered for release and why they decided to grant or not grant parole.

Currently the board’s workings, which were the subject of a recent inspector general’s report that found the board ignored state law and its own policies, are largely secret. Both measures passed the Senate earlier this month by wide margins.

House lawmakers in the chamber’s Courts of Justice Committee rejected the proposals on party-line votes, with members saying they would ask the Virginia Crime Commission and the Virginia Freedom of Information Council to study the measures.

Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, who authored the bill that would have made votes public, called the step unnecessary.

“I’m not really sure what the FOIA Council has to look at,” he said, calling it a policy decision for lawmakers rather than a technical issue. “It’s something done routinely in other states and pretty much every other state board’s votes are public, and that’s what this bill does.”

House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, said the Crime Commission is already planning a broader review of the state’s parole system and called the bills a good fit for that review.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, concurred. “There are some great ideas here that we can maybe put into the larger study,” he said.