Delegate Rob Bell

Senate Committee Kills Tebow Bill; House Fights For Life, Rule Of Law

On the same day a bold headline in the Richmond Times-Dispatch announced that the Virginia High School League had created a policy to allow "transgendered" students to play high school sports, the Senate Education and Health Committee killed legislation that would allow home school children access to those same sports — with the VHSL leading the opposition to the bill. VHSL, a pseudo-private organization that controls public high school sports in Virginia long has opposed equality for home school students. Hiding behind its own policies and definitions of "student enrollment" and "academic standards," it fights to keep students who legally home school and whose families pay taxes to support public schools from having an opportunity to try out for teams. It consistently implies that the academic record of home school students can't be trusted and that allowing them to participate would be "unfair" to public school students. The education establishment, from the VEA to the PTA to the School Boards Association, the Superintendents Association and more, fell into their annual lockstep of opposition with the VHSL in opposing the bill.

Testimony from several home school kids was poignant and compelling. Many talked about their participation in sports with their friends up to high school, where they are then blocked from continuing to play by an organization that is accountable to no one but itself.

Commonly called the "Tebow Bill," after Heisman Award winning quarterback Tim Tebow, who benefited from a similar law in Florida (and which 29 states have), HB 63 failed on a party line vote of 9-6. We are grateful to Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albermarle) for his impassioned advocacy for his bill and for the home school community. We have no doubt that as public support for this policy of fairness continues to grow (see VCU poll), Delegate Bell and home school athletes across Virginia will see success!

Also yesterday, the House of Delegates adopted budget amendments introduced by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Shenandoah) to both the current state budget and the next state budget that prohibits the attorney general from using taxpayer funds in his challenge to the state constitution. We thank all of you who contacted your Delegate since last night! Delegates have definitely heard your voice.

The House also rejected attempts by Democrats to strip the budget of several pro-life amendments, including prohibiting Medicaid funds for abortion, defunding Planned Parenthood, and prevent any governor's efforts to undermine abortion center health and safety standards. Pro-abortion advocates, as usual, used misleading arguments in trying to defeat the amendments.

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41, Springfield) alleged that the current abortion center safety standards have led to clinics closing, leaving "thousands of women" without access to "health care," such as cancer screenings. The problems with that argument are numerous. For example, one of the two that did so (NOVA Women's Healthcare in Fairfax), closed because of lease and financial issues, not because of the safety standards (see LifeSiteNews.com). If the $1 billion abortion industry really cared about women's health, it would spend some of its cash improving health and safety instead of $2 million getting its pick for governor elected.

But the misrepresentation by liberals didn't stop there. Topping the deception was Delegate Scott Surovell (D-44, Mount Vernon), who introduced a budget amendment that would have undermined conscience clause protections for faith-based child placement agencies, a law passed into law two years ago. He made the outrageous claim that the law allows faith-based adoption organizations to discriminate based on race! First, that is illegal under federal and state law to discriminate based on race and second, it is appalling to imply that faith-based organizations like those that serve families and orphans across Virginia are racist. It was an utterly insulting claim that should sicken every thinking Virginian.

Thankfully, the House didn't listen to Delegate Surovell (it usually doesn't) and overwhelmingly rejected his discriminatory amendment.

 

"Tebow Bill," Charter School Bill Face Vital House Floor Votes Tomorrow

One of The Family Foundation's highest priorities this year will be voted on in the House of Delegates tomorrow. HB 63, often called the "Tebow Bill," is legislation that would assist home school students in participating in public school sports (see the video of the House Education Sub-Committee debate here). The home school sports bill, once again this year patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), would break down barriers that prevent home school students from playing public high school sports by prohibiting localities from joining the Virginia High School League, a pseudo-state/private entity that regulates public school sports (and which lobbies the legislature contrary to its own bylaws). Under the provisions of the measure, localities would not be able to contract with VHSL if they don't allow home school students to participate. Half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provides opportunities to home school students to try out for public school sports. Polling indicates that nearly two-thirds of Virginians support fairness for home schoolers.

No home school student is guaranteed an opportunity on a team. They are simply given the opportunity to try out. After years of angst over the proposal in other states, once passed, the fears of the education establishment have gone unproven. In Florida, the executive director of that state's high school sports league said:

There was great opposition; principals felt like if my school is not good enough for you, why should my athletics be good enough? Now everybody's pretty much accepting of it. We had a big fuss over not much.

The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are home schooled. This discriminatory practice must end.

Also on the House floor tomorrow, delegates will vote on HB 388, a bill that makes the charter school option more accessible to special needs children. Patroned by freshman Delegate Glenn Davis (R-84, Virginia Beach), HB 388 levels the charter school funding playing field for special needs students. The already allocated money will follow the student if this bill becomes law, preventing school districts from using it for their conventional public schools. It has no fiscal impact to the state or school districts and is another incremental step toward more school choice and education competition.

Critics unsuccessfully tried to paint this bill as an unfunded mandate. But, in fact, it ensures existing money is passed through the school system properly. It protects charter school funding — and therefore school choice for special needs students — from being used by school districts for other purposes. The already allocated money would then be applied to fixed costs, such as hiring teachers, purchasing equipment and other essentials, so that charter schools and disabled students have the same opportunity students at other public schools have.

Both bills faced tough roads in the Republican dominated Education Committee. HB 63 got by on a 13-8 vote, while HB 388 reported only by a 12-10 vote. In short, there are enough potential votes to derail either or both bills. Please contact your delegate and ask him or her to vote for both HB 63 and HB 388.

ACTION: Please click here to contact your delegate today and urge them to vote in favor HB 63 (the "Tebow Bill") and HB 388, to help further school choice in public education for special needs children!

Video: "Tebow Bill" Advances In House, Goes To Full Education Committee

The "Tebow Bill," which would allow homeschooled students to try out for sports teams of the public school in which they would ordinarily attend (and which their parents' tax dollars support), passed its first hurdle Wednesday when the House Education Sub-Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education voted to report it to the full committee by a bipartisan 6-2 vote. It now goes, most likely Monday, to the full Education Committee. The legislation is a Family Foundation priority. The bill, HB 63, is patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-56, Charlottesville). It's been dubbed the "Tebow Bill" because a Florida law with the same intent allowed former Heisman Trophy quarterback and homeschool student Tim Tebow the opportunity to play football for his local high school, where he was discovered by the University of Florida.

Below is the video of the sub-committee meeting where the bill was debated. The Virginia High School League lobbied against this bill, again, despite its own charter which prohibits such advocacy. It was joined in its opposition by the educrat establishment who fear competition and reform to public education policy.

"Tebow Bill" advances despite the tried and trite arguments by the education establishment.

Candidates In Crowded GOP Lt. Gov. Field Face Potential Game Changing Debate Tuesday Night

It may be unique in the long history of Virginia politics: Seven candidates standing for a party nomination for a statewide office. But that's the situation this year as seven Republicans seek to win the second spot on the GOP ticket at the party's May 18 convention. There hasn't been anything like this since 1985, when five ran for the number two spot at the GOP convention at Norfolk's Scope. But seven? There are similarities to the two campaigns aside from the large number, though not enough to draw many parallels. The one major common denominator is that both nominations were decided by convention instead of primary, drawing a lot of interest from people who would not have otherwise run.

Precisely because of that, the candidates are by and large unknown to many GOP activists going into the convention at the Richmond Coliseum. Not one has been able to cut through the clutter of an already hot gubernatorial general election campaign between Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, as well as a more easy to sort through GOP campaign for attorney general between Delegate Rob Bell of Albemarle County and Senator Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg. Throwing seven candidates into the mix for a part-time position that has two official duties — preside over the Virginia Senate and fill the office in case of vacancy — makes deciding who is best a difficult task.

However, there may be a game changer in the LG race in the form of a late-in-the-process-debate Tuesday night in Richmond at Benedictine College Prep at 6:30. The Central Virginia GOP Lieutenant Governor Candidates Forum is sponsored by several of that area's GOP committees, including the Richmond City and Henrico County units. They selected the location in the middle of the city as a way to bring the conservative message to areas that don't always hear it, and reach young people and Catholic voters as well.

All seven candidates have agreed to attend and a buzz (see Norm Leahy at Bearing Drift) is building up over it primarily because its proximity to the convention could create a breakthrough wave for a candidate that impresses or sink one who doesn't. In addition, the host committee and moderator Scott Lee, a conservative talk show host on Richmond radio station WRVA and the host of the syndicated Score Radio Show (which previewed the debate with its organizers last weekend), have promised questions that won't lend themselves to campaign brochure blather. We'll see and we'll be there to report.

The event is free and, while elected convention delegates may take special interest to attend, is open to the public as well. Doors at the Benedictine College Prep gym open at 6:00. The school is located at 304 North Sheppard Street (23221). Click here for more information. The candidates are: former Senator Jeannemarie Davis, E.W. Jackson, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, Senator Steve Martin, Pete Snyder, Prince WIlliam County Board Chairman Corey Stewart, Stafford County Board Chairman Susan Stimpson.

Reconvened Quotes Of The Day

The General Assembly is meeting today in its annual one-day reconvened session, commonly referred to as the “Veto Session,” where it considers the governor’s vetoes and amendments to bills passed during the regular session that met during the winter. Whereas the “Morning Hour” — a fairly open-ended time for members to comment on matters not directly dealing with the legislative calendar — of a regular session consists mainly of welcomes to constituent groups, lifting the profile of a bill or policy position and assertive partisan speeches, Morning Hour during the reconvened session typically plays homage to the members who have announced their retirement. With eight members making the announcement since the end of session in February, there was a lot of talking going on, but none more so than that on behalf of Delegate Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford), the last of the independents and powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, whose first term began in 1962. He is the longest serving member in the 400-year history of the longest continuously meeting legislature in the New World. That meant lots of laud from numerous colleagues — and a great deal of story telling. After the very lengthy praises were over, Delegate Putney, soon to be 85, took the floor and brought down the House (get it?) with this:

It's not often that I’m speechless, but I hardly know what to say today. I feel like the mosquito at the nudist camp. There is so much territory to cover, you don’t know where to start.

It took several minutes for delegates to contain themselves and the chairman proceeded to compliment colleagues of both parties past and present and the demeanor of the chamber, explain what his time there meant to him, and recount humorous anecdotes, history and the accomplishments of the General Assembly over his 50-plus years of service. The last of the retirees to be recognized, and on the other end of the service scale, was Delegate Donald Merricks (R-16, Chatham) retiring after only three terms. Described by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albemarle) as a workhorse and not a show horse, one who rarely took the floor to embellish himself and one, most importantly, who told you where he stood and never held out his vote for something else.

Then the man of few words took the floor to acknowledge his colleagues' ovation. By now it was nearly two hours after session started with a long single-day's worth of business ahead. He recounted his favorite Bible verse from Exodus, where the Israelites were at the Red Sea with the Egyptians in hot pursuit. Moses prayed to God for a means of escape while others complained that they were better off as slaves in Egypt. Delegate Merricks then relayed how a scholar translated God's answer to Moses:

"Stop praying and start moving the people!" So let's stop talking and get on with the calendar!

To which House Speaker Bill Howell (R-26, Stafford) replied:

If I knew you were going to say that, I'd have recognized you first!

 

"Tebow Bill" In Senate Committee Tomorrow: Urge Support Of Fairness For Homeschoolers

Facing its biggest legislative challenge, not unlike the last-minute, game-on-the-line-drive some young athlete who would benefit from the bill may one day lead, HB 1442, the often-called "Tebow Bill," will be considered tomorrow in the Senate Education and Health Committee. The bill would assist home school students in participating in public school sports and is a top priority for The Family Foundation.

Please click here to see if your senator is on the committee and urge him or her, or other committee members, to vote in favor of HB 1442!

The legislation, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), would break down barriers that prevent home school students from playing public high school sports by prohibiting localities from joining the Virginia High School League, a pseudo-state/private entity that regulates public school sports. Under the provisions of the measure, localities would not be able to contract with VHSL if they don't allow home school students to participate. Half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provides opportunities to home school students to participate in public school sports.

Remarkably, yesterday, even the liberal Washington Post editorial board came out in favor of the "Tebow Bill"! Last year, the New York Times reported on the bill, and quoted school officials in other states who expressed the same fears the VHSL now mimics when their legislatures debated similar legislation. But after the law took affect, they found their fears misplaced. Polling done earlier this session by VCU's Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute showed that nearly two-thirds of Virginians support fairness for home school students in participating in public school sports. This mirrored our own poll, one year ago, done by Mason-Dixon.

Last year, a similar proposal was defeated in Ed and Health by one vote. If you can attend the meeting to show support, please be there promptly at 8:00 a.m. Though the bill could be heard anytime that morning, seating is limited so you want to be there on time! A crowd of supporters, particularly home school families, can make a big difference!

In essence, all we are asking for is a chance for home school kids to try out. This bill doesn't force any home school student to participate in any activity. It simply requires that the Virginia High School League allow home school students to try out for sports teams or public schools can't contract with VHSL. The bill also requires home school students who participate to meet the disciplinary requirements and allows for families to be charged any fees associated with participation. Local school systems could also add requirements.

The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are home schooled. This discriminatory practice must end.

Opponents such as the VHSL, the Virginia Education Association and the Parent Teacher Association, are doing all that they can to prevent this bill from passing. It's late in the game and your help is needed. Your voice is critical to the success of this bill.

Surprise! Washington Post Endorses "Tebow Bill," But Says Dems Control Va. Senate; Bill In Ed & Health Thursday!

Miracles do happen. Witness this: The Washington Post this morning editorialized in favor of the "Tebow Bill" after years of opposing it. Coincidentally, the bill, HB 1442, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albermarle), will be in the Senate Education and Health Committee this Thursday (follow the link for committee members and their contact information). The committee vote is expected to be close. Will the Post's endorsement help the cause? Anything can happen at the General Assembly and it usually does. In fact, surprises are the norm. Not to have one would be the surprise.

Here's the telling sections from the Post's editorial:

It is clear, though, that the group entrusted with helping to make those determinations needs to revisit rules that have become too rigid. Local school districts that want to include home-schooled students are barred from even trying. ...

The bill . . . was improved this year to spell out that any decision about the participation of home-schooled students would be left strictly to local school boards. Even with that local option being made clear and other provisions to guard against abuses, the bill, faces an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The current ban against home-schoolers is the result of long-standing policy set by the Virginia High School League, which governs interscholastic sports and other activities in Virginia's more than 300 high schools. ... No doubt the issues are complicated and, for many, emotional. But 26 other states have managed to allow home-schoolers to play sports, either by right or through local option, with apparent success. In Virginia, elementary and middle school students participate in public-school activities with no problems.

Alas, even as the Post, finally sees the merit in a common sense bill that we support, it engaged in wishful thinking, stating that the Democrats control the Senate.  But we'll trade that for another miracle Thursday.

Several Key Priorities Move Forward In General Assembly Today!

Today, the House of Delegates passed two Family Foundation priorities while the Senate passed a bill protecting parental rights. Also, a Senate committee advanced another Family Foundation priority. In the Senate, after hearing from many of you over the past several days, SB 908, patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Fredericksburg) passed 26-14! This is a key victory for ensuring that state courts continue to recognize parental rights as fundamental and not reduce them to simply "ordinary" as has happened in 24 states. By maintaining them as fundamental, it continues to require that the government meet a higher legal standard before infringing on those rights. Many thanks go to the Home School Legal Defense Association, who advanced the legislation. The House version of this legislation will be voted on tomorrow afternoon in the House Courts of Justice Committee.

The Senate Education and Health Committee advanced SB 1074, legislation that protects the free association rights of Virginia public college students to assemble in groups according to their religious and political beliefs. The bill, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) passed 9-6, with Senator George Barker (D-39, Alexandria) being the lone Democrat to join all committee Republicans to pass the bill. Opposition was led by the ACLU, which questioned the motives of those advancing the bill and made claims about court decisions surrounding the issue that were incomplete at best. This bill should be voted on by the full Senate early next week.

In the House, the student group bill, HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), the companion to SB 1074, passed overwhelmingly, 80-19. The House also advanced the "Tebow Bill," (HB 1442) legislation that would give homeschool kids the opportunity to participate in public school sports. The bill, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), passed 56-43. Supported by nearly two-thirds of Virginians, this bill is about treating students in our communities fairly and simply giving homeschoolers an opportunity to try out for teams.

Thank you to all of you who sent e-mails or contacted your elected officials on these and other issues so far this session. They have had an impact! Next Tuesday is the mid-point, or "crossover" of session, meaning that each body must act on its own legislation by that time. We will continue to keep you informed an ask for your action as needed.

Two Key Floor Votes In House Tomorrow On Priority Legislation!

Two of The Family Foundation’s highest priorities this year will be voted on in the House of Delegates tomorrow. First is legislation, HB 1442, that would assist home school students in participating in public school sports, often called the “Tebow Bill; and second, HB 1617, is a bill that protects the rights of college student groups to organize according to their beliefs.

Please click here to call your delegate today and urge them to vote in favor of HB 1617 (student groups) and HB 1442 ("Tebow Bill")!

The home school sports bill, patroned again this year by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), would break down barriers that prevent home school students from playing public high school sports by prohibiting localities from joining the Virginia High School League, a pseudo-state/private entity that regulates public school sports. Under the provisions of the measure, localities would not be able to contract with VHSL if they do not allow home school students to participate. Half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provides opportunities to home school students to try out for public school sports.

The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are home schooled. This discriminatory practice must end. New polling on education topics from VCU indicates that nearly two-thirds of Virginians support fairness for home schoolers, a number similar to that found in a Mason-Dixon Poll last year commissioned by The Family Foundation.

HB 1617 is a new proposal. Participating in groups and organizations with missions that match their religious or political beliefs is a longstanding tradition for college students. Unfortunately, some universities around the country have begun enacting so-called 'all-comers" policies, which essentially eliminates these groups from being able to set criteria for members and leaders. Consequently, a student group that is recognized by the university and receives funding or use of facilities cannot have any kind of requirement that members or leaders actually share the beliefs or believe in the mission of the group!

Free association is a foundational constitutional principle, but as we know, those kinds of freedoms are slowly being reduced. Incredibly, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld "all-comers" policies as constitutional, though it did not require universities to have them.

HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), will ensure that the current policy of the majority of Virginia’s universities will continue.

The only opposition to this legislation that we are aware of is the ACLU, which argued against the bill earlier this week in sub-committee, in essence, that it views free association as inherently discriminatory. Despite that, the bill passed subcommittee unanimously. We have worked with representatives of various Virginia universities to ensure that they are not opposed to the bill. However, Delegate Joe Morrisey (D-74, Henrico) today attacked the bill on the House floor and attempted to add an amendment that would have forced religious groups to accept members and leaders who disagree with the groups' views on human sexuality. The House rejected the amendment, but members need to hear from you today!

Wild Day At General Assembly Ends With Several Victories

With the first two weeks of this year's short session progressing at a less than brisk pace, it was inevitable that the start of the last week before "crossover" would be hectic. Monday did not disappoint. No less than three important sub- or full committee meetings, starting at 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. with maxed-out dockets, were scheduled. The House Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Constitutional Amendments offered up the first good news of the day when it voted to report HJ 684, patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), which would allow the Board of Education to approve charter schools as a way to get around obstructionist local school divisions that now have sole authority to approve them — and the reason Virginia only has four charter schools.  Then the House Education Committee heard debate and voted to report HB 1442, the "Tebow Bill," patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albermarle), which would allow homeschooled students to play sports for their local public school; HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Shenandoah), which protects college student groups from allowing membership to those who fundamentally disagree with the organization's mission; and HB 1871, a bullying definition bill successfully amended to ensure that it punishes bullies not based on the characteristics of the victim, but on the act of the bully. Additional language added to the bill ensures First Amendment protections.

Passage of the homeschool sports bill and the college student group protection act are legislative priorities for The Family Foundation. The latter would allow student groups at Virginia state colleges to organize according to their beliefs. Unfortunately, some universities around the country have enacted "all-comers" policies that essentially eliminate these groups from being able to set criteria for their members and leaders. Free association is protected by the constitution and this bill seeks to clarify that. It passed by a 19-2 vote. It also passed a similar bill affecting children of military personnel who constantly are re-stationed at various bases or deployed, but whose children stay in the same area with a relative.

Then, the shocker of the day: Overcoming the predictable opposition of the public schools, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-6 to report the Parents Rights Bill, SB 908, patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Fredericksburg). It reaffirms Virginia court rulings that parental rights are "fundamental" into state code. This is significant, because fundamental rights are treated with much more deference by the judiciary than "ordinary" rights.

The afternoon was busier. Senator Ralph Northam (D-6, Norfolk) introduced his second bill of the session in the Education and Health Committee to repeal the ultrasound update to Virginia's informed consent law. Because of its redundancy, committee chairman Senator Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield), wasted no time in public debate and it died quickly on an 8-3 vote, prompting Senator Northam to call the committee a "kangaroo court."

The House Courts of Justice Committee had a full docket as well. After debate, it killed on a 10-6 vote HB 1644, patroned by Delegate Vivian Watts (D-39, Annandale), which would have changed the definition of birth control in the Virginia Code to include abortifacients, including the morning after pill. While advocates claimed it was an innocuous bill, it would have forced pharmacists against their conscience to dispense abortifacients to those 17 and younger. Later, after many questions of concern their Senate counterparts did not have, the committee voted to pass by until Friday the House version of the Parents Rights Bill, HB1642, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City).

Please contact members of the House Courts of Justice Committee and urge them, especially if your delegate is on the committee, to pass HB 1642, to secure basic, fundamental rights of Virginia parent in state code! 

Please also contact your senator to vote yes on SB 908 on the Senate floor and no to any motion that would re-refer it to committee or otherwise kill it.

If that wasn't enough, sub-committee meetings started in the evening, highlighted by one of the most talked about bills of session, "The Right To Farm Act," a property rights bill. The highlight of that meeting is detailed in a brief, must read post, here.

Things are moving quickly this week. Please watch your e-mail, this blog and our Facebook and Twitter accounts — which often allow us to update you on events much more quickly — to get the latest news and information on what action to take with your delegates and senators in promoting traditional, conservative family values policies  in Virginia.

Key Votes In House Education Committee On Monday!

Two of The Family Foundation's highest priorities this year will be voted on in the House Education Committee Monday morning. The first, HB 1442, is legislation that would assist home school students in participating in public school sports, often called the "Tebow Bill," and the second, HB 1617, is a bill that protects the rights of college student groups to organize according to their beliefs.

If your delegate is on the House Education Committee, please contact him or her as soon as possible and urge him or her to vote in favor of HB 1617 (student groups) and HB 1442 ("Tebow Bill")!

The home school sports bill, once again this year patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), would break down barriers that prevent home school students from playing public high school sports by prohibiting localities from joining the Virginia High School League, a pseudo-state/private entity that regulates public school sports. Under the provisions of the measure, localities would not be able to contract with VHSL if they don't allow home school students to participate. Half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provide opportunities to home school students to participate in public school sports.

The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are home schooled. This discriminatory practice must end.

A VCU poll released just yesterday for the Commonwealth Education Policy Institute, an education think tank headed by former State Public Education Superintendent Dr. Bill Bosher, indicates that nearly two-thirds of Virginians support fairness for homeschoolers. It receives more than 60 percent support from people in all demographics, incomes, political parties and independents, education levels and regions of Virginia except Hampton Roads, where it is favored by 54 percent. Talk about bipartisanship! 

HB 1617 is a new proposal. Participating in groups and organizations with missions that match their religious or political beliefs is a longstanding tradition for college students. Unfortunately, some universities around the country have begun enacting so-called "all-comers" policies, which essentially eliminates these groups from being able to set criteria for members and leaders. Consequently, a student group that is recognized by the university and receives funding from student activity fees or use of facilities couldn't have any kind of requirement that members or leaders actually share the beliefs or believe in the mission of the group!

Free association is a foundational constitutional principle, but as we know, those kinds of freedoms are slowly being reduced. Incredibly, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld "all-comers" policies as constitutional, though it didn't require universities to have them. HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), will ensure that the current policy of the majority of Virginia's universities will continue.

The only opposition to this bill that we are aware of is the ACLU, which argued against the bill earlier this week in sub-committee. In essence, they view free association as inherently discriminatory. Despite that, the bill passed subcommittee unanimously. We have worked with representatives of various Virginia colleges and universities to ensure that they are not opposed to the bill.

Property Rights Fight Flashback

As a reminder of just how tough the fight for the most basic right to protect private property was over the last seven years, view this short video of then and now Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) — from 2007. Even though the resolution that year (HJ 723, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell), made it to the Senate floor, it failed to pass because of the efforts by Senator Saslaw and others. Six sessions later, in 2012, he still "didn't think property rights belonged in the constitution."

The parliamentary gimmick employed in the video was one of many used throughout the years. It was tried this year, as well, and almost worked (more about that in a future post). The truly galling aspect to this is that in 2011, in an election year, Senator Saslaw and several opponents voted for the resolution and it passed the Senate 35-5. Of course, with it on the line and three more years until the next Senate election, he and the others reverted to form and nearly defeated it in the crucial second-year vote all constitutional amendments must pass.

Senator Saslaw, local government and special interests for seven years doomed property rights protections. The wall of resistance broke the last two years. Saslaw: "I don't believe property rights belong in the Constitution." Guess he never heard of Mason, Madison, Henry or Jefferson and that they put them in our original Constitution. 

"Tebow Bill" Fails In Senate Education And Health Committee

The Senate Education and Health Committee this morning voted 7-8 (see vote) to defeat HB 947, a bill patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), which would have removed a significant barrier preventing home school students from trying out for public school sports teams. Senator Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) joined the seven Democrats on the committee in opposition to the bill. The bill, which became known in the media as the "Tebow bill," was a top legislative priority for The Family Foundation. More than half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provides opportunities to home school students to participate in public school sports, but at this point Virginia will not join that league.

Delegate Bell eloquently presented the bill, anticipating opponents' arguments and masterfully debunking them. He explained that homeschoolers were not looking for a guaranteed spot on the team, but rather the ability to tryout. They were not looking to school shop, but rather tryout for their local high school team. They were not looking to participate for free, but rather pay any expenses the coach deemed appropriate. Additionally, the bill included the right for localities to add requirements of their own as well as a four year sunset. Nothing in the bill was an earthshaking change.

Opponents claimed homeschoolers want it both ways and that they know the rules when they make their choice. But Senator Jeff McWaters (R-8, Virginia Beach) countered that some students are caught in a trap of staying in public school just to play sports when their educational needs are better served in a home school environment.

After his presentation, numerous homeschoolers testified to their own academic prowess and athletic ability. One boy spoke of his participation in rowing. He rows with his team at many regattas, but is barred from rowing with his teammates when VHSL facilitates the competition. He expressed his frustration with his "second class citizenship." A public school student from Godwin High School in Henrico County, who plays on the junior varsity basketball team, told committee members that there was a shortage of students interested in playing girls basketball, so she and her teammates had to recruit players. She said that homeschooler participation would be a welcomed addition.

However, the  educrat establishment (Virginia Education Association, Virginia High School League, Virginia School Board Association, Virginia Superintendents Association, the Parent Teacher Association, etc.) turned out in full force to oppose the bill. Perhaps the most enlightening comment came from the PTA. Its lobbyist stated that 98.4 percent of high schoolers are public school students, which would mean 1.6 percent of students are either in private school or homeschooled. While that number seems a bit inflated, if so, it's ironic that so much panic has ensued from the public education lobby over a mere 1.6 percent of students!

The good news is that this is the farthest in the legislative process that this bill has traveled. For the first time, the bill passed out of the House of Delegates and made it to the Senate. We must continue to press forward, educating others on the fairness and importance of this legislation. The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, yet continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are homeschooled. This discriminatory practice must end. Just as we said with school choice, the day will come when homeschool kids are treated fairly and allowed to try out for sports teams!

Liberty Or Death Vote For Property Rights Tomorrow Morning In Senate Sub-Committee!

It's hard to believe that just four people hold the fate of protecting the property rights of all Virginians, but that is the number of votes needed to pass or kill a proposed property rights amendment to the Virginia Constitution in the seven member Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-committee on Constitutional Amendments (see members here). A previous Senate resolution this session died on a 4-3 vote in this sub-committee and now the House version, passed 81-19 by that body, will be heard tomorrow morning in a liberty or death vote — it must pass in order for the full committee to hear the bill and to have a chance to get to the Senate floor (where it would have a good chance of passing).

Please contact members of the committee and ask them to vote to report HJ 693 to the full committee! Ask them to listen to the will of the people and protect your property rights.

While the Virginia Senate has proved to be a roadblock for property rights and reform of government’s oppressive power of eminent domain, Tuesday, the House of Delegates passed HJ 693, a state constitutional amendment patroned by Delegates Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth) and Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), by an overwhelming 81-18 margin. This mammoth bipartisan vote surpasses even the 60-something vote the eminent domain reform statute received in 2007. Now, tomorrow morning, the Senate sub-committee will have a choice: listen to local governments and unelected housing and redevelopment authorities or the people they represent.

Defending our property rights is a longstanding principle of The Family Foundation, and we've supported efforts for several years to pass a constitutional amendment that answers the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous and deplorable Kelo decision. Property rights affect all people, across all socio-economic and geographic lines. Whether urban, suburban or rural, Virginians are subject to losing their homes, farms, and family-run or small businesses to dubious "economic development" schemes, "revitalization" plans and government pork and boondoggle projects without this vital constitutional protection.

Without secure property rights, we only borrow our property from the government until it needs it; we have no security for our families, economic advancement or even to practice our faith. While government will always be here, our homes, businesses and places of worship have not such guarantee.

While many states rushed to grant their citizens state constitutional protections after the Kelo ruling, Virginians have waited six years for the Virginia Senate to act! This amendment must pass the Senate this year and both chambers again next year so Virginians can then vote on it at the ballot box in 2012. If it fails Tuesday, we must wait at least three more years – and we’ve already waited six!

Virginia passed a law in 2007 in response to Kelo, but developers, utilities, and local governments and housing and redevelopment authorities (who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights) have tried each subsequent year to chip away at that statute. In short, as good as the statute is, it needs the protection only a constitutional amendment (HJ 693) can provide.

While Senate Roadblocks Property Rights, House Reflects People's Will 81-19

While the Virginia Senate has proved to be a roadblock for property rights and reform of government's oppressive power of eminent domain — first, by defeating SJ 307 4-3 in a sub-committee vote, then refusing to bring it to the full Privileges and Elections Committee, then blocking a discharge motion to bring it to the floor — all hope of passing a constitutional amendment to guarantee these protections is not lost this session. That's because at the same time the Senate majority Democrats defeated Senator Mark Obenshain's discharge motion on SJ 307 Tuesday, the House passed HJ 693, patroned by Delegates Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth) and Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), by an overwhelming 81-18 margin. This mammoth bipartisan vote surpasses even the 60-something vote the eminent domain reform statute received in 2007. Now, this coming Tuesday morning, the same Senate subcommittee that earlier in session listened to local governments and unelected housing and redevelopment authorities instead of their constituents, will get another chance to listen to the will of the people and protect your property rights.

Contact members of the Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-committee on Constitutional Amendments Tuesday morning (members' contact links here) and ask them to report HJ 693.

Defending our property rights is a longstanding principle of The Family Foundation, and we've supported efforts for several years to pass a constitutional amendment that answers the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous and deplorable Kelo decision. Property rights affect all people, across all socio-economic and geographic lines. Perhaps the most affected are urban families, whose homes and businesses are considered an inconvenience to urban planners' redevelopment schemes, most of which always fail (think Richmond's 6th Street Marketplace).

While Virginia passed a law in 2007 in  response to Kelo, developers,  utilities, and local governments and housing and redevelopment authorities (who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights) have tried each subsequent year to chip away at that statute. In short, as good as the statute is, it needs the protection only a constitutional amendment can provide.

Final Chance For Property Rights Constitutional Amendment Friday Morning!

After two weeks of delays, one of the most important committee votes of the 2011 General Assembly will take place Friday morning in the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Members will consider a constitutional amendment to safeguard your property rights from the power of eminent domain by state and local government and utilities. It is the last chance the committee has to approve the resolution if it is to meet the "crossover" deadline and pass it to the Senate. If there is no constitutional amendment passed this session, the earliest chance Virginians will have to vote on one will be November 2014.

It is urgent that you contact committee members to support this vitally important issue. Better still if one is your delegate. Click here for links to their contact information.

There are two identical resolutions before the committee: HJ 647, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville) and/or HJ 693, patroned by Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth). This has been a long and difficult process, with a lot of work behind the scenes, but little to show for it so far, fighting off the big utilities as well as local governments who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights. Friday, however, is our chance to move the ball forward for constitutional protections, limited government and economic and personal liberty.

Eminent domain is one of the most powerful and intimidating tools government has to increase its size, expand its reach into our lives and limit our freedoms. Without constitutional protections, you only borrow your property until the government takes it for whatever reason it determines. Without property rights, we don’t have secure homes for our families, the liberty to practice our faith, or the opportunity for economic advancement.

The fact is, ever since the deplorable Kelo decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, local and state governments have had eyes bigger than their stomachs for homes, farms and small businesses to feed their economic development schemes and pork barrel projects. Worse, sometimes they take private property and turn it over to another private entity. In one heinous case in Hampton, the city took private property for a pittance, and then sold it to a developer for millions while the original owner saw none of the extra money.

The Kelo decision was in 2005. The General Assembly has kept us waiting long enough to secure our constitutional rights to private property. Now, tell them the waiting is over!

"Which" Or "That"? How About "Where"? And Other Strange Things Today At The Capitol

Things couldn't be stranger than fiction anywhere outside of Hollywood than on Shockoe Hill, where Mr. Jefferson's capitol sits. Today, in the House Privileges and Elections Committee, members debated for about 20 minutes if the word "that" should be amended to "which" in HJ 615, a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit tax increases and fees in the budget bill, thus honoring Virginia's "single object" rule. After several minutes of back and forth between committee staff and Delegate Dave Albo (R-42, Fairfax) — who continued to remind the committee they were discussing amendments to a bill that still was not the committee —and various others who chimed in, Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville) recommended "where." A brief silence fell over the committee as it realized that, hey, a magic bullet has been found. Delegate Bell was at the center of another oddity. After much negotiation with interested parties — local governments and utilities — a compromise on a constitutional amendment to safeguard property rights was reach. Peace in the valley? Not quite. Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth), with whom Delegate Bell has been working, had the exact same bill and amendments with opponents. All that was left was to decide which bill went forward. When the committee refused to adopt the Senate procedure of passing multiple bills with exact same language, there was no consensus as to which resolution should go forward. After several minutes, a frustrated committee ordered the resolutions held over to next week. ... Only at the Western Hemisphere's longest continually serving representative body.

On a scary note, Senator Toddy Puller was taken to the hospital by ambulance after choking on her lunch on the Senate floor (see Richmond Times-Dispatch). Senator Ralph Northam, a physician, rushed to her desk and assisted her. She is reported to be fine from this incident. However, Senator Puller, a stroke victim, needs special help to get around Capitol Square and the General Assembly Building. The Senate already is missing one member: Senator Yvonne Miller is recovering from heart surgery and may not return before February 1. Both women are Democrats. Without Senator Miller, there are 21 Democrats and 18 Republicans.

Constitutional Protections At Stake Friday Morning In House P&E

Tomorrow morning, the House Privileges and Elections Committee will consider a number of important constitutional amendments. Please contact committee members at the link above and encourage a vote for all three resolutions. One, HJ 615, patroned by Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico), will safeguard Virginians' tax dollars by banning tax and fee increases in the budget bill. If those revenues are needed, delegates and senators should have the courage to vote on tax increases separately, up or down, not buried in a must-pass budget with deadline pressure to approve so that state government can continue to function.

Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Spottsylvania) has two resolutions before the committee. One, HJ 540, will limit the amount state and local government can spend each year to the previous year’s budget, plus the percentage increase in population and inflation. This is a proven way to limit the size and scope of government. His second resolution, HJ 539, would require a super majority vote by the General Assembly and local governing boards to impose a tax increase.

The fourth resolution, and a major priority by several limited government advocates, is HJ 647, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville). It passed sub-committee by one vote and its full committee vote was delayed a week. In committee and behind the scenes, local government interests, who use taxpayers' hard-earned money to lobby against their own citizens, and large utilities and telecoms, are throwing every resource they have to defeat this proposal. Afraid of allowing Virginians to vote on the issue of protecting their own property, these special interests think property is private only until such time as they need it for their redevelopment schemes or transportation boondoggles. No less than 10 government and corporate special interests testified against the resolution in sub-committee, with only The Family Foundation, The Farm Bureau and the Virginia Agribusiness Council speaking in favor.

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its deplorable Kelo decision several years ago (see Examiner.com's Kenneth Schortgen for a new, heinous eminent domain case), it said federal courts could not protect property owners from local and state governments. But it did rule that states could protect their citizens and basically invited states to enact their own protections. Most states did. Why are Virginians still waiting for their legislature to act?

These much needed policies will protect Virginia families’ homes, farms and businesses; enact honest state budgets; and put a limit on out of control taxing and spending. Together, these proposed constitutional amendments form a unique opportunity to reform state and local government, limit its power and focus it on its proper role.

Moment Of The Day

We've had Quotes of the Day. We've had Bills of the Day. Now, for the first time ever, we have a Moment of the Day! Here's what happened:

In the House Courts of Justice Civil Sub-Committee a couple hours ago Delegates David Toscano (D-57, Charlottesville) and Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville) each had a bill dealing with mortgage re-financing, HB 1682 and HB 2061, respectively, each in the exact same language. Delegate Bell was not in the room to present his bill, but Delegate Toscano, a sub-committee member, was. So he introduced his bill and had witnesses as well. Delegate Bell then arrived and pitched in the conversation as well. When the sub-committee seemed inclined to report the bill, the question remained — whose version would get "rolled" into whose version?

Pride of authorship was at stake. Sometimes the more senior member gets the honor, or the lawmaker who filed the bill first. If a committee chair is involved, he or she is given deference. Many times, it is a matter of partisanship: the member of the majority is going to get the credit. That simple. But in a rare General Assembly moment, when humility reigned supreme . . .

They decision was decided by a . . . coin flip! Delegate Toscano called heads and won. A great moment for our very first Moment of the Day!

Property Rights Constitutional Amendments Will Be Carried Over For A Week

Last night we were gearing up for a significant legislative battle in committee Friday morning on one of our Founding Principles — property rights. However, we learned earlier today that the proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution will be carried over to next Friday in the full House Privileges and Elections Committee (click here to get members' contact information). The resolution is HJ 647 and is patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville). (In sub-committee, HJ 498, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi, and HJ 515, patroned by Delegate Annie B. Crockett-Stark, were rolled into HJ 647.) In addition, Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth) is the patron of HJ 693, which was brought straight to full committee, but which also will be carried over to next week.   While it may be a let down in the short-term, we're hopeful the week will allow for more grassroots activism. While the Big Government lobby and Big Corporations may have a lot of money, but we have more voices. Ensuring private property and the just compensation of its owners in the cases where true eminent domain is required, is fundamental to preserving our liberty, because if the government can take your property, they can take your business, your church, your farm — anything — and claim it for a "public use." It happens with disturbing frequency and must be stopped. Use this week to contact members of the committee and urge passing of HJ 647/HJ 693, especially if your delegate is a member.