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Senate panel rejects lawmaker travel restriction

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 1, 2013 at 3:50 pm •  Published: February 1, 2013
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Senate committee on Friday rejected legislation that would have imposed a little more transparency on Virginia lawmakers, who spent about $95,000 in taxpayer money on travel last year.

The Rules Committee voted 13-2 to kill Sen. A. Donald McEachin's proposal to prohibit the state from compensating or reimbursing the expenses of legislators who attend conferences that do not make their agenda or materials readily available to the public.

Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, said it's best for the Senate to police itself and avoid trying to tell the House of Delegates how to handle its members' travel expenses. McEachin, D-Henrico, countered that it's entirely appropriate for the Senate to regulate the expenditure of public funds.

The lawmaker whose $5,688 in taxpayer-funded trips last year was the most in the 140-member General Assembly joined Norment in speaking against the bill.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, said that when he attends conferences he likes to grab a tote bag and fill it with leaflets and other materials made available by outside vendors to take home for later reading.

Hanger, who got a big laugh from his colleagues and the audience by citing the American Association for Nude Recreation as one such distributor of literature, said he was concerned that those types of materials could be covered by McEachin's bill.

The committee dispatched McEachin's bill with little further discussion.

Later, McEachin said in an interview that he submitted the legislation at the behest of "progressive groups" that had been unable to find out what legislators were discussing or studying at publicly financed conferences.

"We should not be spending taxpayer dollars on events that are not transparent," said McEachin, who was not among the 43 legislators reporting such trips in reports compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project, an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit tracker of political cash in Virginia politics. Norment also was not on the list.

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