Delegate Ben Cline

Victory For Pregnant Inmates And Unborn Children

Currently in Virginia, if a woman is incarcerated and goes into labor she may be restrained during the whole childbirth experience. Over the past few years, The Family Foundation has worked with a diverse coalition of organizations, including the Virginia Catholic Conference, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood (believe it or not), and Prison Fellowship to prohibit the unnecessary restraint of pregnant inmates. However, this chapter soon will come to a close as the proposed regulations restricting restraints on pregnant inmates is one step closer to reality and will go into effect March 7 after one final public posting. After years of advocacy and waiting, Virginia finally will see proper precautions taken for the health and safety of the pregnant mother and respect for the life of the unborn child. Celebrating this victory, Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47, Arlington), the patron of legislation over the years which would have had similar affect, said:

I commend the Board of Corrections for its strong endorsement prohibiting the restraint of pregnant inmates. All stakeholders worked in good faith to reach consensus and the proposed regulations will ensure the protection of the mother, her unborn child, and law enforcement. No pregnant inmate should ever be unnecessarily restrained.

(Interesting that the delegate, who is pro-abortion, used the term "unborn child." Hopefully, he will come around on that issue one day.)

Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), chairman of the House subcommittee where this issue has previously been heard, said:

I applaud the Board's action to put appropriate guidelines in place regarding the restraint of pregnant inmates. No inmate should be unnecessarily restrained, and the approved regulations balance our concerns for the safety of the unborn child, the pregnant mother, law enforcement, and the public. The development of these regulations was prolonged, but all parties are to be commended for their hard work and commitment to reaching this balanced compromise. I look forward to their swift implementation.

The Family Foundation would like to thank the coalition for its determined work resulting in protection for pregnant mothers and sanctity for unborn life.

Video: Conservative Caucus News Conference

The Virginia General Assembly Conservative Caucus held a news conference yesterday to highlight its 2014 agenda. Its House chairman, Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), led the event and was joined by two freshman colleagues: Delegates Mark Berg (R-29, Winchester) and Dave LaRock (R-33, Hamilton), each of whom have hit the ground running with bold legislation. Delegate Cline said:

The Virginia Conservative Caucus is putting forward a positive agenda that addresses the challenges facing working individuals and families across the commonwealth. Virginians have stated that they want to see more jobs created by businesses, lower taxes and commonsense, efficient government. We know real solutions are what Virginia families are demanding from their government, and we are reflecting that demand in our agenda.

The Conservative Caucus is comprised of approximately 70 members in both the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. Its Senate chairman is Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg). It focuses on three areas of public policy: job creation and opportunity; strengthening and protecting families; and limiting government and defending freedom; and annually releases a legislative agenda featuring dozens of bills across all three areas.

Delegate Cline highlighted his HB 1243, a bill to reduce the state corporate income tax rate from six to five percent to generate job creation. Delegate LaRock featured his HB 950, a bill to provide a homeschool and private school income tax credit to foster education choice and competition; and Delegate Berg, a doctor, unveiled his HB 338, a bill to restrict the State Corporation Commission's functions with the federal Obamacare health care exchanges.

In addition to its agenda of positive bills, and his promise to work with Governor Terry McAuliffe on areas of mutual agreement, Delegate Cline also emphasized promised to "resist Medicaid expansion strongly." He said, "It makes no sense to expand a program to cover an additional 400,000 Virginians that currently serves 800,000" by inceasing by 139 percent the definition of poverty. Here is the video of the entire news conference:

The Virginia Conservative Caucus announces its 2014 General Assembly legislative agenda. 

Transportation Tax-And-Spend Quote Of The Day

Our Quote of the Day comes from one person from two sources, citing two movies, on one topic. One, and old school release. The other, social media, where we're finding more and more of our QODs. In a news release from Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge), co-chairman of the General Assembly's Conservative Caucus, regarding the House-Senate tax-increase-and-spend transportation plan:

In an attempt to cobble together enough new tax revenue to satisfy the demands of Senate Democrats, this has become a Frankenstein’s monster for Virginia taxpayers.

Furthermore, he tweeted this yesterday:

Here's hoping members of the Conservative Caucus stick together as the formidable bloc they can be, keeping in mind that nothing good comes from haste — and that do no harm is a creed not only for doctors. Lawmakers do well to heed it too.

Another Black Thursday? Life Bills in Senate Education And Health Committee Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning in Senate Room B beginning at 8:30, the Senate Education  and Health Committee will vote on three remaining life bills. Not known for its dedication to the sanctity of life, thus the moniker Committee of Death, makes Thursday's battle is an uphill climb. In fact, it typically waits until the last committee meeting of session each year to kill House pro-life bills, i.e., "Black Thursday." However, despite its reputation, it's important that each of the 15 senators on this committee hear from Virginia citizens who value life. Click here to get committee members' contact information and urge them to support HB2147, HB1428, and HB1440 Here is a short description of the bills the committee will vote on:   Abortion Funding Opt-Out for ObamaCare ObamaCare puts states in charge (see ObamaCare Lies) of their own health insurance exchanges for individuals and small businesses. If enacted today, Virginia potentially could include in its exchange health insurance plans that cover elective abortion. Pro-family citizens opposed to abortion would be mandated to fund this unethical destruction of human life. HB2147, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge) is a bill that would prevent insurance plans in the Virginia health insurance exchange from providing abortion coverage. Five states have taken this step and several more are considering doing so, while Maryland and Pennsylvania will allow abortion coverage. This bill passed the House 60-36-2, but the Senate version died earlier this session in this committee 10-5.   Abortion Center Safety HB1428, patroned by Delegate Dickie Bell (R-20, Augusta), requires the regulation of abortion centers. This bill has only three simple conditions: an annual inspection, a requirement of life saving equipment on premises, and licensure by a state regulatory agency. Abortion center safety has received increased attention recently due to two unrelated events: a botched abortion originating in New Jersey and a "horror shop" abortion center in Philadelphia. Virginians must demand a higher level of professionalism and medical aptitude from abortion providers and facilities. This bill passed the House 66-33.   Wrongful Death HB1440, patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas) is a bill that would provide protection (civil recourse) for the unborn in cases where they lose their life due to the negligence of another. While Virginia's Code does include a fetal homicide law, the same unborn life, taken without intention or premeditation, elicits no civil penalty. Improving our civil law to recognize fetal manslaughter is essential. An unborn life is not only of value when it is wanted by the mother or when it is intentionally killed. This bill passed 62-36-1 in the House, but the Senate version died 10-5 earlier this session in this committee.

Half-Time Report: Several Family Foundation Priorities Pass The House!

Today is crossover at the General Assembly, the day when the House and Senate have to complete work on bills introduced in their respective chambers. Consequently, yesterday the House spent nearly 11 hours on the floor debating bills, with final votes taking place today. The Senate did their marathon debate and vote session today. Several Family Foundation priorities passed the House of Delegates, some after lengthy debates took place on the proposals yesterday.

HB 1440, patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), which would provide protection (civil recourse) for the unborn in cases where they lose their life due to the negligence of another, passed 62-36 — despite the wild accusations by Delegate Vivian Watts (D-39, Fairfax), who claimed the legislation would outlaw contraception. Delegate Dave Albo (R-42, Fairfax), the chairman of the Courts of Justice Committee, which reviewed the bill, defended it on the floor. He said that he had several attorneys and committee legal counsel review the legislation and all agreed that the bill, nearly identical to a 20-year-plus Missouri law, and which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989, would not affect legal contraception in any way.

HB 2147, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge), would prevent health insurance plans in the Virginia health insurance exchange, required by ObamaCare, from providing abortion coverage. This preemptive strike against ObamaCare, should it be implemented, passed 60-36.

The House today also passed by a vote of 54-45 HB 2314, legislation patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico), that would provide a tax credit for corporate donations to private scholarship programs. This education opportunity legislation is tailored to help low-income families. It is modeled after a successful Florida scholarship program that has helped more than 20,000 students and saved the state more than $36 million in FY2008-09. (We hope you join us this Thursday for our Family Foundation Day at the Capitol and Rally, which will focus on this legislation.)

Also passing today was legislation that will create an "In God We Trust" license plate. The bill, HB 1418, is an omnibus license plate bill patroned by Delegate John O’Bannon (R-73, Richmond) that incorporates the "IGWT" plate bill introduced by Delegate Dickie Bell (R-20, Staunton). A Senate bill (SB 811), patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) creating the same license plate also passed the Senate today.

Thank you to everyone who has contacted their delegates and senators on these and other issues. After today the bills that have passed the House or Senate will "crossover" to the other chamber to go through the committee process. Please continue to respond to our action alerts (sign up here) and keep up with all the General Assembly news and video by returning to this site, and by following us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as the General Assembly session continues in the coming weeks.

Put Restrictions On ObamaCare In Virginia And Help Preserve Unborn Life

Virginia took the lead in opposing ObamaCare — first, with last year's Virginia Healthcare Freedom Act, then, later in the year, with a legal challenge to ObamaCare's constitutionality. This year, HB 2147, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge), would prevent insurance plans in the Virginia health insurance exchange, required by ObamaCare, from providing abortion coverage.  HB 2147 was introduced as a preemptive measure to ensure that Virginia taxpayers are not forced to subsidize abortion in the event that the lawsuit is not successful. If ObamaCare was fully implemented today, Virginia could potentially include in its exchange health insurance plans that cover elective abortion. Pro-family citizens opposed to abortion would be mandated to fund this unethical destruction of human life. However, the new federal healthcare law allows states to opt out of abortion funding in their statewide exchanges. More than 30 states have either passed or are introducing opt-out legislation regarding the coverage of abortion in these exchanges, while Pennsylvania and Maryland include it.

Please contact your delegate as soon as possible (contact information here) and urge him or her to vote for the bill (or, click here to determine your delegate).

Health Care Abortion Funding Opt-Out in Committee Tomorrow!

Last night HB 2147, which provides an abortion funding opt-out for ObamaCare, and patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge), barely made it out of a House sub-committee on a 6-5 vote. It next goes to the full House Commerce and Labor Committee Thursday afternoon.

Please contact members today and ask them to vote to report HB 2147.

HB 2147 was introduced as a preemptive measure to ensure that Virginia taxpayers are not forced to subsidize abortion in ObamaCare's mandated state-run health insurance exchanges. If Virginia's constitutional challenge is ultimately not successful, and ObamaCare gets fully enacted, Virginia could potentially offer taxpayer funded elective abortion coverage through its insurance exchange. Pro-family citizens opposed to abortion would be mandated to fund this unethical destruction of human life.

Anticipating this problem, there is a clause in the federal health care law that allows states to opt out of abortion funding in their statewide exchanges.  More than 30 states have either passed or are introducing opt-out legislation regarding the coverage of abortion in these exchanges, while Pennsylvania and Maryland are offering this coverage.

Even so, debate was hot last night in subcommittee (see video below). NARAL's representative claimed in her testimony that "this bill is the ultimate example of government intrusion into private contracts." If excluding taxpayer dollars from funding elective abortion is "the ultimate" in government intrusion, what exactly is ObamaCare? Others argued that this bill is premature, since a health care exchange has not been set up yet in Virginia — exactly why we (and those 30 states) must be proactive, not reactive, in preventing the funding of the destruction of human life.

HB 2147 is on the docket for the House Commerce and Labor committee meeting this Thursday afternoon. Committee members need to hear today from their constituents on the importance of this bill!

Delegate Cline makes the case: Virginia must be prepared not to spend taxpayers' money on elective abortion.

Hearing is sometimes not believing, which is good when NARAL presents testimony.

A Little More Sunshine In The Forecast

I know everyone is tired of the snow, the rain, the overcast skies. But there will be a little more sunshine in Virginia before too long. This isn't a weather forecast. But thanks to SB 431, the books in Richmond will be easier to inspect. Monday morning, the House Appropriations Sub-committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities, amended, then passed unanimously SB 431. Later that day, it passed the full committee 22-0 and is on its way to the House floor.

The bill, patroned by Senator Mark Herring (D-33, Leesburg) builds on the landmark spending transparency bills last year by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) and then-Senator Ken Cuccinelli. Although it was more detailed in its original incarnation — it was stripped down due to the ever-present and dreaded “Fiscal Impact Statement” — it adds yet more sunshine to the current law. It will require each state agency to put their check and credit card purchases online, including a description of the good or service and the date of purchase. It also makes finding this information easier for citizen budget hawks — each agency must place an icon on its home page that links directly to a page that details its spending. Believe it or not, this simple procedure has been lacking and will make navigating the often confusing state spending trail much easier for concerned citizens, watchdog groups and grassroots organizations who care where or hard-earned tax dollars go.

Perhaps most important, it will save the Commonwealth money because the more people looking, the more waste and duplication is caught. This has been the case in every state that has opened itself up, and even with the federal government. After all, private citizens looking over the federal budget online detected the infamous “Bridge To Nowhere.”

Along with Senator Herring, thanks go to the sub-committee chairman, Delegate John O’Bannon (R-73, Henrico), who arranged the committee meeting late in session to guarantee the bill’s fair hearing. The Virginia Coalition For Open Government and Americans For Tax Reform joined us in supporting SB 431. Once passed by the full House, it will go back to the Senate to work out differences but is expected to maintain the features outlined above.

You never know during the General Assembly where a bill is going to come from that will give an unexpected lift for good policy and constitutional government. Sometimes, less publicized bills pop up on your radar screen and other times high profile bills crash and burn. Better the former than the latter when it actually accomplishes something.

A Year Later, Transparency, Again!

You may remember last year one of our priority areas of legislation was government spending transparency. After two years of persistence, Virginia now is in the process of creating more windows and letting in more sunshine to the way it spends the hard earned money we send them, thanks to bills patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) and then-Senator Ken Cuccinelli. But the issue hasn't gone away because to have true government by the people and for the people, the people must be given every tool to monitor its own government's operations. This session, two very good bills were introduced. One, HB 62, patroned by Delegate David Toscano (D-57, Charlottesville), would have added transparency to the budget making process. Unfortunately, it was left in the House Appropriations Committee where it died, having never received a hearing.

The other bill, SB 431, patroned by Senator Mark Herring (D-33, Leesburg), would fill in some gaps in the laws written by Cline and Cuccinelli. Although the bill as originally crafted had a lot more to it — it was pared down due to the inevitable Fiscal Impact Statement — it retains two important provisions: That each agency post online all checks and credit card purchases it makes, including the vendor name, date of purchase and purchase description. It also stipulates that each agency install an icon on its Web site that links directly to a page on Commonwealth DataPoint, the state's window on government spending and accountability. In an editorial yesterday in the Loudon Independent, called "Checking the Checkbook," the paper wrote:

A bill is being reviewed by the House of Delegates that could shed light on the age-old question, "Why does government spend so much?" For those with a bit more innate trust in government, the question could also be, "Where are my tax dollars going?"

We agree. Making it easier to find and locate government spending has numerous benefits, among them that the more eyes looking into how bureaucrats spend out money, the more chances we have of saving it by catching waste and eliminating it. That's something lawmakers should embrace anytime, not to mention these challenging times. Currently, the bill sits in the Appropriations Technology Oversight and Government Activities Sub-committee, although a hearing date is not scheduled. However, we are hopeful one is in the works and look forward to supporting it once it's scheduled.

New Term For Virginia Campaign Lexicon: "Buena Vista-Style Politics." Pictures Of Labor Day MisDeeds!

The term "Chicago thug politics" has been used to describe some events in national campaigns over the last two years or so — a conviction in the Midwest of a liberal activist who slashed tires on a conservative get-out-the-vote van on election day and all of the forged and made-up voter registration signatures from ACORN last year, come to mind. But after an eyewitness account and the pictures below were sent to me, we may have a new term for campaign misDeeds.

Although less physically intimidating than tire slashing and not quite the level as felony vote fraud, it seems liberal activists are practicing a more deft style intimidation in this year's statewide elections. It may not have started at the traditional Labor Day Parade in Buena Vista, but it was well documented there. Thus, the term, "Buena Vista-Style Politics." However, as the campaign now heats up, we're sure this kind of activity is only the tip of the Angry Left Spear.

Here is the eyewitness account:

Basically, McDonnell and Bolling's crews came in early on Saturday/Sunday to set up signs in preparation for the parade. Deeds' crew, plus purple shirted SEIU folks, acted overnight Sunday to cover those signs with Deeds' signs, sometimes stapling signs over the top of the big 4x8 foot signs. The locals said they'd never seen anything like it in all the years that they've been having this event. Chicago thug style politics have arrived in Va.

. . . . see how Deeds signs covered all of McD's signs. This was EVERYWHERE. It was truly a disgraceful display, with the Dirty Deeds crew in all their full regalia. I have started to refer to the CreighP Deeds' sign with the blue stripe with the white stripe down the middle as 'the road to nowhere' sign. Sigh.

BuenaVista2009_007

Before: This baseball backstop is dominated by signs for the GOP statewide candidates and Delegate Ben Cline. Notice that Democrat gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds only has signs on the second row and a few small signs (appropriately) on the left side.

BuenaVista2009_009

 After: Everything but the top row Bob McDonnell signs and one Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli sign are covered with the small Deeds signs. Union muscle at work for Deeds.

Also FWIW one of the Bolling volunteers told my husband that Sunday night while they were putting up signs one SEIU type held a crowbar and shouted, 'Who wants to get their ass kicked by a liberal?' Lovely.

BuenaVista2009_010

 Here, two large Bill Bolling signs, obviously there first, were covered up by lefty union workers for Deeds and delegate candidate Jeff Price.

We also have pictures of another instance of Deeds' crew standing guard while others plant his signs in front of prepositioned McDonnell signs. We hope to get them up later.

Furthermore, thanks to Bearing Drift, we have this picture of a large McDonnell sign defaced with Deeds stickers. But what makes this distasteful is that the Deeds crew went on to a McDonnell supporter's private property in the Hampton Roads area to do their mischief — and was caught! According to Bearing Drift, one of the red-handed begged that the police not be called, while another of the perps was recognized as a paid Deeds Hampton Roads staffer.

Hampton Roads McD sign deface

Doing dirty deeds but begging for mercy. What else do you expect from liberals?   

So, as the boys from South Park would say, "We've learned something today." We've learned that despite what we're taught, the early bird ethic and initiative have no place in liberalism. Be lazy, but use your muscle, and overcome others' hard work. Then, expect a double standard, because it's due you (for no discernible reason) and not be held to account for you illegal actions. I can't think of anything better that exemplifies what we see in liberal policies than in Buena Vista-Style Politics.

Update: Governor's Substitute Transparency Bill Accepted

Earlier today, during the General Assembly's veto session, the House and Senate concurred unanimously to accept Governor Tim Kaine's substitute version of HB 2285, a state spending transparency bill, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-25, Amherst). This substitute, at first look, and based on conversations with some legislators and staffers, appears to be even stronger than SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), and signed last month by Governor Kaine. The language of the bills was identical when they reached his desk.  Although neither bill received one dissenting vote in several sub-committee, committee and floor votes in both chambers, and now today's veto session — after each got unceremoniously dumped last year in committee (Senate) and sub-committee (House) — it wasn't as easy as it sounds getting them passed and signed into law. Each had to deal with the dreaded fiscal impact statement, which many times attributes bogus costs to bills as an unassailable hurdle in the money committees, often to thwart reforms. In this case, each bill had duty in front on the money committees and HB 2285 even had to go to the Senate Rules Committee.

In essence, we started with two great bills last year and again this year, that changed form, but not function, though perhaps not as comprehensive as we might have liked after several amendments, and ultimately got something more than what we thought after the regular session ended. Not bad. What a difference an election year makes.

Now a huge window has opened up on state spending, with a massive spotlight to boot. Soon, citizens — be they media, grassroots activists, policy wonks or even (for Heaven's sake) bloggers — will be able to closely examine exactly how Virginia government spends the hard-earned tax money we send it, and with which vendors it contracts for services, as well as other open government features. It simply is not enough to say a department spends this much money; we need to know down to the line how much, on what and with whom. That, in turn, will let us know if the purpose was worthy or wasteful, duplicative or duplicitous. You get the picture.

Despite what would seem broad interest in government spending transparency, many self-proclaimed "open government" groups were noticeably absent form the debate. The  Mainstream Media, for example, which touts its annual "Sunshine Week" each March, was nowhere to be found. No doubt, however, in years to come, it will, as we all should, tout this new found access to the otherwise indecipherable bureaucratic nuances of state government.

Update: Okay, So We Have Spending Transparency After All

Lost in my curiousness over Governor Tim Kaine's proposed substitute for HB 2285, Delegate Ben Cline's (R-25, Amherst) spending transparency bill, which passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously, is that the same day he signed SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax). Both bills are written exactly the same. (I blame the Legislative Information System, which sent notice only on HB 2285. A manual check of matters legislative today shows that the governor signed SB 936.) So, there you go. Kind of anti-climatic. Spending transparency will be law as of July 1. 

But why did the governor sign one but amend the other? If he had done this today, we'd think it was a prank. Does he really want more thorough transparency and reform? Was SB 936 only a hedge, securing a baseline while trying to get more? If so, we gladly welcome him to the club. We're not sure yet that his HB 2285 substitute does that, although it sure looks good. We're in the process of trying to learn more. 

There are other theories out there. One we're not counting on is that he was trying to make Senator Cuccinelli look good for his run for attorney general. On the other hand, the governor did sign his Choose Life license plate bill. Hmmm.

Update: Governor Offers Amendment To Transparency Bill

As we mentioned last night, Governor Tim Kaine has offered an amendment to HB 2285, the spending transparency bill patroned by Delegate Ben Cline. But it's not just any amendment. It's an amendment in the nature of a substitute, meaning it's a whole new bill (see here). At first read, and we stress only a first, glancing read, it seems to provide for more thorough transparency. On the other hand, VITA is involved. Here's HB 2285 as passed by the House and Senate (click here). We'll study both side by side. Please do the same. As we said from the beginning, getting spending transparency into law was never going to be easy — even for a bill that got not one dissenting vote in several committee and floor votes in both chambers. It has had more ups and downs and twists and turns than the Rebel Yell roller coaster at Kings Dominion, and we're still not there yet. But we'll keep working until we do.

BREAKING NEWS: Governor Amends Transparency Bill!

I just received an update from the Legislative Information System that Governor Tim Kaine has made recommendations to HB 2285, the House version of the spending transparency bill. It is patroned by Delegate Ben Cline. However, the system has not yet posted what those amendments are. It's hard to believe they are too substantive given the unanimous approval it and the Senate version (SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli) received. It also goes to reason that whatever these amendments are, the governor will apply them also to SB 936. We will update you when we find out.

Another Transparency Victory (Or, A Legislative Journey: The Life And Times Of HB 2285)

As a follow-up to yesterday's victory for reform, government spending transparency and accountability with our hard-earned tax dollars, late last night the House version of the spending transparency bill, HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge), was approved by both chambers unanimously. It is on its way to Governor Tim Kaine's desk to sign, amend and send back, or veto.  Along with SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), these two Family Foundation priority bills, if they become law, will allow Virginians, over time, to track government spending on contracts, the vendors the state pays and for which work they do, as well as other important information; and allow us to be able to more easily track such items online. 

Just as with SB 936, HB 2285 did not receive a single negative vote throughout its legislative journey which included: Two House committees, a House sub-committee, a House floor vote, a Senate sub-committee, a Senate committee, a Senate floor vote on accepting a substitute, a Senate floor vote, a House vote to accept the Senate substitute and reject an extra Senate amendment, and a final floor vote in the Senate (last night) to accept the House's rejection of that amendment. 

I know it sounds confusing, but it makes an important point: just because a bill gets a unanimous vote, it doesn't mean it was easy to accomplish. Even popular and just ideas are difficult to get passed and can come unraveled in a moment. For example, both patrons deserve a great deal of credit for their patience and parliamentary skill. They adapted the bills at strategic points to fight off bogus fiscal impact statements which would have doomed them as "too costly" to adopt. Grassroots activists also deserve much credit for staying informed on the issue and contacting their senators and delegates along the way. Click here to get a taste of this Byzantine, egg-shell-walking process

One simple example of the improvement these bills will bring is that a link to the Commonwealth DataPoint Web site will have to be put on the state government's homepage. Right now, if you are not a policy wonk, and don't know the name Commonwealth DataPoint, or don't know that it's on the Auditor of Public Accounts' Web site, you can't even begin to find what limited information is state government offers. So, imagine — it takes an entire act of the General Assembly just for a simple Web link! So, you know what we go through on controversial legislation. (Click here and scroll down to see a Sunshine Review's report on the current status of Virginia's online transparency. Hint: not good.)

For years, it has been very difficult to determine for what and to whom the state contracts and pays for services, not to mention what spending is duplicated and otherwise wasted — and whether it is spent on nefarious groups such as Planned Parenthood. It took almost the entire session, but these are major victories. That said, at least we had one humorous moment in this process, appropriately, near the end. If you haven't checked out yesterday's QOD, click here to read about the House "debate" on HB 2285.

Quotes Of The Day

It all happened late this afternoon, in rapid fire succession, all starting with a blatant mis-speak by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge) when bringing his spending transparency bill (HB 2285) to the floor. Explaining the Senate's floor amendment to the bill and why it should be "severed" (which elicited some sarcastic "oooohs"):

"I talked to the patron and he's okay with it."

Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Stafford), to what may have been the loudest laughter in session this year:

"You are the patron!"

After Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8 Salem) parodied Cline to more laugher, Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock) stepped up for a bill of his own:

"Mr. Speaker, I have a question of the patron. Would the patron yield?"

The House laughed louder than the original faux paux. Then Delegate Gilbert added, "I can go on. This is easy."

It's been a long "short session" and they've been on the floor for hours at a time. It's definitely time to bring down this curtain and let them go home!

BREAKING: Spending Transparency Will Go To The Governor!

The Senate earlier this afternoon passed by a vote of 38-0 SB 936, by agreeing to the House's amendments, thus avoiding a conference committee and sending the spending transparency bill to Governor Tim Kaine (contact here). The bill, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), did not receive a single negative vote in two Senate committees, one House sub-committee, two House Committees, one House floor vote and two Senate floor votes, three bill versions and three fiscal impact statements. Within the last few minutes, on the House floor, the House agreed to the Senate substitute of HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge). Then, by a vote of 93-3, it rejected the Senate floor amendment which would have added legislative transparency to the budget writing process, but had nothing to do with the posting of actual state spending online. It was rejected because the same basic idea of the amendment was rejected by the House Appropriations Committee earlier this session as a free-standing bill. Lawmakers are hesitant to approve policy on the floor as bill amendments when previously rejected in committee where the pros and cons were aired out.

This action makes the bill conform to SB 936. It goes back to the Senate to accept or reject the House's action, probably tomorrow. If it accepts it, it will go to the governor as an identical bill as SB 936. If not, there will be a committee of conference at which point the amendment will be accepted, rejected or negotiations will fall apart and the bill will die. Either way, SB 936 is a baseline, and there is the slimmest of chances — if the amendment is included — HB 2285 can be made a bit stronger. At the very least, SB 936 will go to the governor!

UPDATE And Clarifications: Cautiously Optimistic On Transparency Bills

Hopefully, sometime today, or, if not, then tomorrow, we will have a  spending transparency bill sent to Governor Tim Kaine (contact here) for his signature. Here's the status of both HB 2285 and SB 936: The former, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), is back in the House after getting conformed to the Senate version then amended further. The House must accept the amendments or reject them. If the former, it will go to the governor. If not, it goes to a conference committee. As amended, it has a bit more transparency than the Senate version.

The Senate version is back in the Senate because the House made amendments, but it should have no problems — the House amendments were offered by the patron, Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), when it was in the House. When amendments by the other body are supported by the patron, they are accepted. Then that will go to the governor.

Right now, it's a matter of seeing what the House does. If it accepts the Senate amendments, we're golden. If not, it will probably end up mirroring SB 936. Either way, it looks like we're going to get at least an moderately expanded window in which to view the doling out of our tax dollars.

Transparency Bills Breeze Through Senate And House; Not So Fast

The good news? The Senate today accepted Ken Cuccinelli's (R-37, Fairfax) floor amendment to conform HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), to his SB 936 by a unanimous vote. The House, meanwhile, unanimously approved SB 936. Sounds all so cut-and-dried, let's-send-it-to- the-third-floorish, right? That'd be too easy.

Here's what happened late this morning. As you will recall from yesterday, Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Henrico) raised concerns that language in the floor substitute might allow for Social Security numbers to be put online. The bill was passed by for the day for the day in order to work that out. However, as the Senate discovered today, federal law safeguards such a happenstance and all were prepped to go forward.

Then stepped up Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). Exactly what might he want? It seems he had a little bill that would bring some much needed reform to the workings of the two chambers (SB 1401). It would require that anything budget conferees stuck in their final budget report —which the two chambers must vote up or down — that was a nonstate appropriation, an item not included in either chamber's budget, or an item that represents legislation that failed during session, would have to be announced as such in letters to all 140 members by the chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees.

The bill sliced right through the Senate only to be left to die in House Appropriations. So, here was an opportunity to revive it and he jumped at it. Unfortunately, his original bill had a dreaded "fiscal impact" statement attached — then said the cost was "indeterminable." (Odd, though, that no budget amendment was necessary. Besides, what's the cost of writing a letter and making 140 copies?). Still, just having it there scares some lawmakers. And us. (Would it have to go before a bill-killing re-referal to Appropriations?)

Great stuff, actually, this amendment. All about transparency. But legislative transparency. Not spending transparency. One is actual facts about state spending. One is about GA procedures. Not exactly germane. Senator Norment admitted as much on the floor, saying he thinks the House may reject his amendment on those grounds. But no one asked the chamber's presiding officer, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, for a ruling (he cannot make one unilatterally). So the amendment proceeded to a vote and accepted by the body.

Here's where it all stands: Instead of the two bills conformed exactly to each other (which we figured wouldn't happen anyway only because we thought at the outset the Senate would leave HB 2285 alone) and avoiding a conference committee, HB 2285 goes back to the House since the Senate changed it. It must either accept or reject the Senate amendments. Either way, it will be different than SB 936: If it rejects the amendments, it is slimmer than SB 936; if it accepts them, it is larger. Meanwhile, the Senate must accept or reject SB 936, since it was tweaked in the House to meet Appropriations Committee concerns. Since the changes were the patron's, it  won't be a problem. 

Many variables from this last minute twist of the tale: Now that Senator Norment is part author on HB 2285, will he be on the conference committee? If so, how might that affect the dynamics? If the House insists on its version of HB 2285, will it give the Senate an excuse to scuttle it in conference? Or will the meat of the bill survive if Senate conferees insist on the slimmer HB 2285 as a slap? Is this all paranoia? We hope so, but just covering all bases.

To repeat, never have bills that still have not received a single dissenting vote gone through so much tortuous twisting. That said, an important reform still is within reach. Updates tomorrow.

BREAKING: Effort To Conform Transparency Bills Temporarily Fails

Just a few minutes ago, on the Senate floor, Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) took HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), out of the uncontested third block reading in order to offer a substitute which would conform the bill to his own, SB 936, which itself will be on its first House read tomorrow. If adopted and conformed exactly to each other, and no further alterations to either bill are made to either bill, then the need for a committee of conference would not be necessary. So Senator Cuccinelli decided to go forward with the amendment instead of an uncontested block vote. Instead, Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Henrico) raised concerns that the language in the substitute could be interpreted as putting Social Security and tax identification numbers online. Although, after several questions to Senator Cuccinelli, he said his concerns were satisfied, but requested it go by temporarily so as to work out a clarifying amendment. It seemed the amendment was destined to be adopted with but a slight delay later today. However, Senator Edd Houck (D-17, Spottsylvania) asked that it go by for the entire day so as to have enough time for a carefully crafted amendment that will satisfy everyone's concerns.

As we posted earlier . . . despite the overwhelmingly positive votes these bills have received, it hasn't been easy. More waiting, more patience. We'll see what tomorrow brings.