Legislative Abstinence

Year after year, school choice bills are introduced in the General Assembly, only to die in the Senate Finance Committee. Earlier this year, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) lost a Pennsylvania-style school choice bill in the committee's typical fashion, for lack of a motion. The reason the bill never gets a motion is because, if no one makes a motion, no one is held accountable for a vote.  This morning, Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20, Staunton) had his school choice bill, HB 1965, defeated, but the story of defeat is a bit different this year.

After much debate, for only the third time in the last decade of our educational freedom efforts, a bill of this nature received motions to report (pass)! However, Senator Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), seldom one to miss a chance at killing a Family Foundation bill, offered a substitute motion to PBI the bill (pass by indefinitely/kill). The substitute motion was seconded and the bill eventually died a slow and painful death. There were 10 votes to PBI, 4 votes against the PBI, 1 abstention, and 1 no vote. 

You may ask — what's the difference between an "abstention" and a "no" vote. A "no" vote usually applies when a legislator is not present to vote on the bill or, in the case of the Senate, does not leave a proxy (or a note on how he wishes to vote). An abstention may be used when there is a conflict of interest (for example, some legislators abstain on voting on certain issues because their spouse is a lobbyist, thus creating a conflict of interest), but is most often used when a legislator does not want to be held accountable for his or her vote. 

Most significantly, an abstention is a fabulous way of avoiding a lower rating on The Family Foundation Action's Report Card. Knowing that school choice is a top priority for TFF, it is a reasonable guess to think that this vote might affect one's score on that document. Since The Family Foundation Action must rate legislators objectively and strictly according to public record, it can not dock a legislator for an abstention because one's reasons may be a legitimate conflict of interest. 

Given the inability of The Family Foundation Action's Report Card to capture this game in print, The Family Foundation has sought new ways to hold legislators accountable. The Family Foundation has begun an initiative to get committee hearings of interest on tape.

Today for whatever reason, Senator Emmett Hanger (R-24, Augusta) didn't feel compelled to vote for educational freedom, or vote at all for that matter.  Watch the video below and see for yourself!


I wonder how the 74 percent of people in Senator Hanger's region who, according to a Mason Dixon poll, support this legislation, will feel about his decision to hide abstention?