Delegate Scott Lingamfelter

Will Senate Approve Bills To Ensure Proper Instruction Of Founding Documents, Free Speech On Campus?

The Senate Education and Health Committee will consider two excellent education-related bills tomorrow morning. One regards students’ rights on college campuses and the other, the proper instruction on the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other key foundational documents.

We need you to contact your senator and urge him or her to vote for HB 258 and HB 197!

HB 258, patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), would prevent Virginia’s public colleges from restricting free speech by limiting the areas on campus where students and their clubs can hold rallies, events and forums. These so-called "free speech zones" are anything but and, unfortunately, a growing trend around the country. One Virginia college adopted this policy, but retracted it when this bill was introduced. The bill is based on federal court case law and has proper safeguards for administrators.

It used to be that all but a few places on college campuses were for free speech; now, the trend is that nothing but a few places on campuses are for free speech. The bill received a favorable recommendation in sub-committee, but nothing is ever assured at the committee level and your help is needed today!

HB 197, patroned by Delegate Steve Landes (R-25, Verona), updates and reinforces current law that instruction “increase knowledge of citizens' rights and responsibilities and to enhance the understanding of Virginia's unique role in the history of the United States” and our founding documents. It ensures that all supplementary materials used to teach the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other important documents contain accurate restatements of the principles they espouse. HB 197 was not heard in a sub-committee and all bets are off as to its fate.

Please encourage members of the Senate Education and Health Committee to vote in favor of these two important education bills. 

Student Religious Liberty On The Line In House Vote Tomorrow!

Monday morning, the House Education Committee narrowly voted 12-10 to report SB 236 to the House floor, as three Republicans joined all seven Democrats in opposition. The bill, patroned by Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), a longtime defender of religious liberty, is a priority bill for The Family Foundation that protects the rights of public school students to express their faith at various school events. The bill was debated today on the floor and will be voted on tomorrow. Opposition in the committee continued to mislead and claim a parade of horrors that would occur if the bill became law. Coming from the ACLU and other groups, the opposition voiced concern that the bill would confuse school boards and cause a litany of lawsuits. But that assertion is baseless. The law has existed in two states for several years but has not elicited lawsuits. They also allege that it will "coerce" people into hearing a viewpoint that might cause them to feel bad about themselves. Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge) made it clear that the First Amendment does not protect someone from being offended.

Attorneys Rita Dunaway of Virginia Christian Alliance and Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom testified in favor of the bill and debunked the opposition's claims. They clarified the case law surrounding religious speech in schools and explained the need to protect students who want to express their religious viewpoint. Too many school teachers and administrators follow a "folk understanding" of the law and discriminate anytime religious speech is uttered in schools. Such actions make religious students second class citizens. Not surprisingly, no one who opposed the bill expressed concern for those students' feelings.

The bill also protects students' rights to organize prayer groups, have events such as "see you at the pole" gatherings, wear clothing with religious expression, and the like. The bill is based on federal court precedent and case law.

Please click here to contact your Delegate and urge their support of SB 236 when it is voted on by the full House tomorrow!

Student Freedom Of Speech Bill Passes Senate!

Tuesday afternoon, the Virginia Senate passed SB 236, legislation that will clarify the free speech and religious liberty protections of public school students. The bill, a high priority for The Family Foundation, passed by a vote of 20-18, largely along party lines. Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), a longtime defender of religious liberty, is the bill's patron. Based on existing law in two states that has not been challenged in the courts, Carrico's bill would create what the law calls "limited public forums" at certain public school events, which restrict schools from censoring subject matter simply because it is from a faith perspective. The schools can still "limit" the speech to the matter at hand. For example, a graduation speech still has to be about graduating, but it can contain statements about the importance of faith. The bill also protects students' rights to organize prayer groups, have events such as "see you at the pole" gatherings, wear clothing which express religious sentiments and the like.

Several senators expressed support for the bill, including Senator Tom Garrett (R-22, Louisa). Senator Garrett's passionate defense of freedom of expression and religious liberty as a whole was topped only by his answers to questions posed by an opponent to the bill, Senator Donald McEachin (D-9, Richmond). Senator McEachin, attempting to stump the bill's proponents, asked numerous questions about the supposed need to define various phrases used in the bill. However, he severely underestimated Senator Garrett's knowledge of religious liberty case law. Senator Garrett eagerly and deftly answered McEachin's questions and furthermore challenged him to apply this bill not just to Christian religious speech, but rather to all religious speech. Garrett also argued that students should be allowed to articulate and hear philosophies and beliefs that are unpopular or minority views for the good of their education.

Also defending the bill were Senators Dick Black (R-13, Loudoun) and Richard Stuart (R-4, Fredericksburg). Senator Stuart pointed out that while legislators on both sides of the isle complain about the SOLs and the "teaching to the test without teaching critical thinking," this bill would provide the opportunity for viewpoints that not everyone agrees with to be expressed, which motivates critical thinking.

The opposition misrepresented the legislation by claiming that it would "coerce" students to hear a viewpoint that may be "offensive." Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30, Alexandria) warned of "coercive prayer" to students who are compelled to attend a function. In fact, the bill doesn't offer special protection to religious speech, but simply the same protection that is offered any other type of speech at a school function. It evens the playing field for students who have a religious viewpoint, protecting them from unwarranted discrimination, and only requires school boards to adopt policies that protect that speech.

We appreciate that 19 of 20 Republicans voted to support religious liberty with their votes for the bill, as well as Democrat Senator Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazwell). The only Republican to vote against the measure was Senator John Watkins (R-10, Chesterfield).

A similar bill, HB 493, patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), is working its way through the House of Delegates.

The Lieutenant Governor Jumble And The Silent, But Crucial, Issue

It's a jumble out there. Maybe a jungle, too, with about 10,000 delegates crammed in the Richmond Coliseum tomorrow at the Republican Party of Virginia Convention (not to mention circulating tonight through the city's downtown at no less than 12 parties by candidates and GOP and public interest organizations). Never has there been a less predictable campaign for a party's nomination for the commonwealth's number two spot. But never has there been so much at stake with the Virginia Senate split at 20-20. (There was one somewhat similar in 1985, as I commented on here.) What to make of it all and the seven candidate jumble? A lot of organizations and web sites, who otherwise wouldn't be considered too important, have either made themselves so, or have been granted such status because in a crowded and unpredictable field, where no one can accurately gauge delegate preferences until people actually show up — and who knows who will or even can show up for an entire day and at least some evening? — candidates have to find a way to gain traction. Thus, what has been a generally clean campaign (nothing like the rear-end exam the Left will launch at the nominee starting Sunday) has become something of a He lied, She lied, They're all playing dirty affair.

The crossfire has been amusing. Candidate 1 criticizes Candidates 4 and 5 through robocalls, and maybe Candidate 3 via mail. Candidate 2 attacks Candidate 1 for that, but goes after Candidate 7. Candidate 6 claims Candidate 4 is attacking him through a front group, while Candidate 5 says certain web sites and blogs are in Candidate 2's back pocket. But in person, they all seem to get along. That was the case two weeks ago at their last debate, at Benedictine College Prep in Richmond, sponsored by the Richmond City Republican Committee and other Central Virginia GOP units. (It drew, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, 250 people. A Democrat debate several days later, at the completely contrasting Richmond Gay Center, only drew about 150 according to the same source.) In the holding room where they were briefed by the host committee and moderator Scott Lee (of WRVA-AM and Bearing Drift/Score Radio Network), they joked with each other and exchanged campaign anecdotes. The potential fireworks during the debate itself were limited, with each touting him- or herself. Perhaps the "offenses" being felt are coming from over zealous supporters instead?

News was made at the debate, though. For the first time ever, an obscure process issue which punches well above its weight in importance, was addressed. After a warm up question about recently read books, they were asked what reform to bring accountability to the office would they work for. After all, so many of their campaign promises are really desires, because so much of what they want to do has almost nothing to do within the powers of the office of lieutenant governor. It's a question I've put to a few of them individually, though phrased differently. Some had no clue. They all seem to know about it now.

Call it the crucial, but silent, issue, because not many are talking about it and the media isn't reporting it. It's about the power of the LG to assign bills to committee, similar to the House Speaker's power. What good is it to be the presiding officer of a legislative chamber if your have little clout? Decades ago, during the day of one party (i.e., Democrat) rule, the lieutenant governor was a liberal populist named Henry Howell. The majority thought even he was too liberal to have that authority, and stripped it away, giving it to the unelected, unaccountable senate clerk, in cooperation with the majority leader. It's one of the reasons the Senate has been the graveyard of many good bills and reforms, especially pro-life bills, where Democrat and Republican majorities have sent them to unfavorable committees that do not have a natural connection to the bills. (For example, coercive abortion is always referred to the "Committee of Death," the Education and Health Committee, rather than the Courts of Justice Committee as it is in the House.) Restoring that power to the Senate's presiding officer will make for a more responsive and accountable process. After all, what LG isnt' already running for the top job?

Pete Snyder, Senator Steve Martin, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter and Corey Stewart all brought up bill referral power as a critical reform to governing the split chamber and to advance conservative legislation that many Republican senators would just as soon see fail. Martin, Lingamfelter and Stewart even expounded on the idea and expanded upon it.

Snyder was assertive, while Stewart was assertive and passionate about ending the Senate's "graveyard" reputation by assigning bills to their rightful committees. Even though the LG has never had the power to assign members to committees as does the Speaker, Stewart went so far as to say he would use his clout as the tie-breaking vote to influence who sits on what committees (a power left to the party leaders in the Senate). Former Senator Jeanmarie Davis gave a lukewarm "I don't disagree with it" answer. Susan Stimpson and E.W. Jackson never mentioned it.

There's an old expression in Virginia politics: If you want to change Virginia, then change the Virginia Senate. Sometimes, it's not the headline grabbing issues that make the difference, just as it can be a little thing no one suspects that wins a campaign. In this case, the two may have merged. While this just reform may not happen over night, it now is part of the conversation, whereas previously, no one had ever heard of it From now on, Republicans candidates will feel the necessity  to campaign on it until it finally happens.

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.

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.

Hollywood-Like, Instant Classic Quote Of The Day

Today's General Assembly Quote of the Day is unique and an instant classic. It is the product of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Agriculture, which early this evening considered HB 1430, the "Right To Farm Act," one of the most highly anticipated bills on the entire General Assembly docket this year. In the General Assembly Building's incredibly cramped 5 East conference room, perhaps intentionally scheduled there to depress a turnout of Tea Party types, with people from all over Virginia spilling out in the hallways, and with the pro-Right To Farm Act witnesses already over the 15 minutes of allotted time he himself instituted for each side, sub-committee chairman Delegate Danny Marshall (R-14, Danville) allowed 10-year-old Dylan Stefl, who stood patiently raising his hand, to step forward and add his comments to the intense, but thoughtful, debate over the bill.

The young man approached the committee members table, pulled out his script, and stared at it for a few seconds. Sensing nerves and trying to put him at ease, Delegate Marshall said, "Why don't you start with your name?" To which the young man snapped:

"I'm getting to THAT!"

After the room recovered from several seconds of laughter and applause, the bill's patron, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), told the red-faced chairman to another burst of laughter:

Mr. Chairman, sounds as if you're out of order!

The bill, also known as the "Boneta Bill" after Fauquier County farmer Martha Boneta, who faces massive court costs defending her right to sell products and host activities on her own farm, also testified. After Dylan's testimony, full of historical facts and a Hollywood-like pleading to pass the bill met with huge applause, an emotional Boneta gave him a huge hug. Alas, after the opponents' 15-minute piece and several more minutes of discussion by sub-committee delegates, the bill was pared down to a temporary compromise. It will be carried to the full committee where further negotiations between several factions remain, and its future still uncertain.

General Assembly Votes to Ensure Judicial Integrity

Tuesday morning with the clock approaching 2:00, the House of Delegates voted to not appoint to a judgeship Tracy Thorne-Begland (see roll call vote). After spending more than twelve hours debating and voting on budget amendments and discussing issues in their respective caucuses, retired military members of the House led the charge during debate over Mr. Thorne-Begland, expressing serious concerns over his actions while a member of the U.S. Military. As we posted late last week, Mr. Thorne-Begland has a long history of political activism and received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy after going on national television to announce that he had violated federal law, the so-called "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy enthusiastically signed into law by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in the early 1990s. More recently, he has made public statements that reveal a personal political agenda that runs contrary to the Virginia Constitution and statute. Many of these concerns did not come to light until after he had been deemed qualified to be a judge by the General Assembly's Courts of Justice Committees.

Today, Virginia Democrats and Equality Virginia lashed out at General Assembly members and The Family Foundation for last night’s votes. Unable to answer the concerns about Mr. Thorne-Begland’s statements, they have predictably resorted to name-calling. Democrat Party of Virginia Chairman Brian Moran said:

It is difficult to consider last night's vote without using the word "bigoted," just as it's difficult to consider this period of unified Republican government without using the word "disaster.”

Senator Donald McEachin (D-8, Richmond), who put forth Mr. Thorne-Begland's name to be a judge in the first place, said:

The GOP took Virginia back to the bigotry and mean-spirited prejudice of the 1960s.

Delegate Mark D. Sickles, (D-43, Fairfax) said in a statement:

And, it shows that legislators are more concerned about the Family Foundation scorecard than Richmond's District Court.

Equality Virginia also took aim at The Family Foundation, saying:

(The legislature) allowed fear mongering and shrill personal attacks by the Family Foundation … to derail Richmond lawyer Tracy Thorne-Begland’s election to the bench simply because he is an out gay man.

Of course, our position since this was first brought to our attention last week has been concern about public statements and political activity, and a violation of the military oath, that demonstrate a willingness to put a personal political agenda above all else. That was our concern. On Friday, Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas) also announced public concerns over the nomination and spoke in opposition to it during last night's debate.

Former military members of the House of Delegates, led by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), Rich Anderson (R-51, Woodbridge) and Mark Dudenhefer (R-2, Stafford), spoke passionately during the House floor debate about their concern over Thorne-Begland’s violation of his military oath. Each made the case that the real issues here concerned integrity, truth, duty and an oath of office. The integrity of the courts was at stake with this vote, they argued.

Several legislators worked for several days to bring to light the concerns over this nomination. We thank each of those legislators who worked both behind the scenes and took strong public stands in the face of vile attacks by liberals.

As has been the case almost since the day after conservatives won majorities in the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate in November, Virginia liberals have been on the rhetorical attack. Regardless of the issue, they resort to mean-spirited name-calling, misinformation and bullying. They redefine issues and assert false motivations to their opponents. After losing election after election, you would think Virginia's Left would finally figure out that they are on the wrong side of these issues, but with the help of some in the Mainstream Media and the editorial pages, they continue to attack pro-family legislators simply for standing up for the truth. Their hope is, of course, that Virginians will be bullied into silence on these important issues.

The General Assembly is tasked with reviewing and certifying judges. If that is little more than a rubber stamp, it means nothing. It has a duty to block judges deemed unqualified or unfit for the bench. Last night, legislators simply did their job.

General Assembly At Crossover: Education Reform

Virginia won't truly prosper until it reforms public education. To do that, massive reforms must be made. We must have education freedom and choice. I like to tell people the analogy economist Walter E. Williams: Suppose your local government drew an arbitrary line around your home and said you can only shop at this one grocery store. How good do you think this store's meats, fish and vegetables would be? What about its service? It's prices? Even the quantity of its stock? With a government contrived monopoly, the answer to all of those questions is, not very.  With that in mind, here's a rundown on education reform legislation we are tracking:

» Delegate Jimmie Massie’s (R-72, Henrico) HB 599 would provide better education opportunities for many Virginia students through scholarships created by funds donated by businesses and individuals which would receive a tax credit for such donations. Despite fierce opposition from the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, the bill passed the House of Delegates 55-44. It now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill was crafted in such a ingenious way as to ensure that there will be no negative fiscal impact to the state — something valuable in today’s economy and something that not many tax credits can boast. In fact, the bill will increase per pupil spending in school districts that lose students to private schools because they will have the same share of federal and local funds to educate less students.

This is a high priority Family Foundation bill and we are working to get a fair hearing in the Senate Finance committee. Unfortunately, this committee has been very hostile to any legislation that provides education freedom to families. Already this session, it voted 9-6 to defeat similar legislation (SB 133) introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg).

Believe it or not, however, this was progress. Last year, no one on the committee made a motion on Senator Obenshain’s bill. This year, they at least had the courage to go on record!

» A bill patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), HB 331, already passed the House by a vote of 95-4. This charter school bill would provide transparency to the charter school application process, requiring local school boards to provide reasons for rejecting charter school applications. Currently, school boards can reject applications without any notice and without providing reasons. The bill now is in the Senate Education and Health Public Education Sub-committee.

» One of Governor Bob McDonnell’s highest priorities is the expansion of Virginia’s charter schools. Public charter schools were designed nearly two decades ago to empower teachers, parents and communities to come together and create a new form of public school that was free from restrictive regulations and systems. The Family Foundation has made the advancement of charter schools a high priority, as we support any option that will increase parental choice in determining the best educational environment for their child. Unfortunately, Virginia’s charter school law is one of the most restrictive in the nation.

Last week, Governor McDonnell held a news conference announcing legislation concerning charter schools. Senator Stephen Newman (R- 23, Forest) is the patron of SB 737 and Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-30, Woodbridge), along with a bi-partisan array of co-patrons, has introduced its House counterpart, HB 1390. These bills seek to make the charter school application process more transparent and requires that the procedures are in place for receiving, reviewing and ruling upon applications for charter schools.

Most significantly, it establishes an appeal process to the state if the local school district rejects the application — which happens with disturbing frequency in Virginia, thus the paucity of charter schools here (three, with a fourth to come, in more than 10 years). Governor McDonnell believes passing this bill would prove Virginia is committed to supporting charter schools and improves its chances for receiving $350 million in federal funding from a multi-billion dollar program President Obama has proposed for charter schools.

» A second McDonnell bill that Senator Newman is shepherding in the Senate and Delegate Richard P. "Dickie" Bell (R-20, Staunton) is patroning in the House, involves virtual schools, which allow public-school classroom programs to be taught in a student’s home via Internet. It meets the same requirements for the student’s attendance, testing and Standards of Learning curriculum that the public school must meet.

» The third bill Senator Newman is carrying would establish "laboratory schools," in which universities set up schools with specialized programs. Delegate Chris Peace (R-97, Mechanicsville) has the House version.

We will work for these reforms and urge you to contact your delegates and senators to do the same. If you don't know your lawmakers, click here to find them. To guarantee to stay on top of these critical issues, which assuredly will shape the Commonwealth's future, click here sign up for our e-mail alerts and forward this link to like-minded friends.

Quote Of The Day: Ward Armstrong, TFF's Legislator Of The Month?

There have been some odd partnerships in the history of the General Assembly. We've partnered with some organizations, such as the NAACP and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy on payday lending, for example. But one creating the double-takes, stares and, in some cases, guffaws, is our partnership with Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) — the House Minority Leader — on HB 652, a bill that would provide a greater degree of jurisprudence to land owners who seek just compensation in eminent domain hearings. More about the bill later, but as an example of the reaction we've received in committee after committee was best exemplified Friday afternoon in the House Appropriations Sub-committee on Transportation when Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Prince William) who feigned a heart attack to a room full of laughs after I followed Delegate Armstrong's presentation to offer support for the bill.

So, today, on the bill's second reading on the House floor, Delegate Armstrong, who has been milking our partnership for all that it's worth, offered this in support of his bill:

And I might add this bill has a broad range of support including The Farm Bureau and The Family Foundation of Virginia for whom I am in the running for Legislator of the Month.

We've enjoyed the partnership, ourselves, Delegate Armstrong. But, it does prove a point. When there's good legislation involving our principles, we don't care who the patron is. We support it. We also oppose bad legislation, no matter the patron. By the way, just for the record, HB 652 also has four Republican co-patrons: Delegates Glenn Oder (R-94, Newport News), Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach), Ed Scott (R-30, Culpeper) and Matt Lohr (R-26, Harrisonburg). That's a good heap of bipartisanship for anyone. Now, on to the Senate, where we hope for the same.

BREAKING: Spending Transparency Approved In House Committee!

Just a few minutes ago, the House Appropriations Committee approved by unanimous voice vote, HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst). Were it so easy. This is the background: The bill wasn't heard until late in the process by its committee of jurisdiction and, with an unjustifiable price tag by the Department of Planning and Budget of up to $3 million, it was doomed for Appropriations.

Plan B: Scale it down. Instead of a new or rebuilt data collection system, both Delegate Cline and Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), patron of the Senate companion, SB 936, worked with the Auditor of Public Accounts to improve current data collection and "retrievability" by the public, to go along with "searchability" improvements the auditor instituted since last year.

Problem: Despite all that, the jurisdictional Appropriations sub-committee had finished its pre-crossover meetings. Solution: Pressure and persuassion, and the chairman allowed for an additional meeting.

What just happened: After all that, and a glowing endorsement for two days running in Senate committees by the auditor, and Senate Finance taking the first step in the water, you'd think all was a slam dunk. More like those blooper reel missed dunks. At the sub-committee this afternoon, Delegate Cline was late and almost got passed over. Then, once he introduced the substitute, he and committee staff realized he had no substitute. Legislative Services, which drafts legislative language, and Delegate Cline had a failure to communicate, apparently, and either there was no substitute in front of the committee or there was, but with the original bill's summary attached. That meant is that the FIS was still in play. Not gonna pass in that posture. A sinking feeling if ever there was one.

What to do? Or is there anything to do? Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge) attempted to save it with a motion to report to the full committee with the understanding the Senate language would be introduced. Not what the chairman, Delegate Steve Landes (R-25, Augusta), wanted.

Delegate Landes then threw Cline a lifeline of sorts, agreeing to report with no recommendation if the proper substitute could be drafted by the full committee's last hearing, about a half hour hence. Proviso: Bills recommended in this manner only are brought up at the full committee chairman's discretion.

Scramble: Cline, committee staff and Legislative Services hustled to unravel the knots. Meantime, potential wolves at the gate: A guy from Virginia Enterprise Application Program showed up with questions and talked with yours truly and another pro-transparency lobbyist. Not against, but concerns, and concerns are enough for Appropriations to put the kibosh on apple pie and the flag. More: He tipped us off that General Services was against it. What a perfect Friday early evening.

Finally, full committee in progress and after a few bills were heard, and wondering exactly how many days it would be before I'd see family and friends, a mini-miracle. After a lengthy and contentious debate on transportation funding, where Democrats grilled Delegate Glen Oder (R-94, Newport News) on his innovative plan while Republicans grilled, in turn, Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer for not having a plan at all, the Chairman, Delegate Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) called up HB 2285, substitute ready and all!

Here's what I don't get: The committee has the correct substitute language, and during discussion of the bill several key members say they have had conversations with people who could be affected or must administer the bill if it becomes law, including the auditor and the Secretary of Technology,  and they report these people say there are no costs. (Question: How did they know what to ask if they didn't know what the substitute language was?) But they want the committee staff's opinion. Not that committee staff isn't great. They are. But how much vetting do you need when the members have gone to the top guys to begin with and they can see the difference in the substitute and original?

More discussion. Costs or no costs? How can we be sure? No one from Public Accounts to verify, but luckily the VEAP guy is silent and no one from DGS is around. Then, what's the purpose? If the information is out there, why do we need this? Is this about transparency? Is this about good government? Come clean Delegate Cline.

Finally, a motion and a second. Unanimous voice approval. I wiped the sweat off my brow and made the Sign of the Cross.

Breaking News: McDonnell Tells Fairfax Registrar To Count The Military's Votes!

The U.S. Military doesn't fight and die overseas to protect our freedoms so that unscrupulous people in power back home can deny them their own constitutional rights.

When the news first broke late last week that the grossly partisan Fairfax County registrar, Rokey Suleman (contact here), was not going to count absentee ballots by military personnel, we were livid. This same man registered Fairfax County Jail inmates to vote earlier this month. (Why not? Captive audience, right?) But he wanted to deny the votes of hundreds of Virginians who are abroad fighting for our (including his) security and freedom. The gall of this man!

From the D.C. Examiner:

Inmates at the Fairfax County jail were encouraged to register and vote last week by (Democrat) elections officials making what the county's (Democrat) sheriff called the first visit of its kind in his 30 years with the county. 

We were ready to blog about this absolute gross injustice — first brought to the public's attention by Delegates Bill Janis (R-56, Glen Allen) and Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), both military veterans (Delegate Lingamfelter was a tank colonel in the Gulf War) — when we just received a news release from the office of Attorney General Bob McDonnell announcing that he has written and issued an opinion that tells Mr. Suleman to shape up and count the votes! (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot article, here.) Delegate Janis last week officially requested the opinion from Attorney General McDonnell — himself a vet and whose daughter has been deployed to Iraq.  

At issue was a minor technicality (Richmond Times-Dispatch article, here) that no Virginia registrar had ever considered an impediment to the counting of the votes of overseas military personnel, especially since a federal law allows military personnel a waiver for the particular circumstance in question. Yet, Mr. Suleman, the jailbird cherry picker, proposed to be the first to ignore the federal law. (Human Events article here).

Another irony: Fairfax County is the home to George Washington. Fine way of continuing the tradition, Mr. Suleman, of respecting the U.S. Military, which your county's most famous citizen did so much to form.

Meanwhile, where was Governor Tim Kaine on this issue? Not a peep. Isn't he Barack Obama's national co-chairman? Coincidence in his silence? We can tell you that besides travelling the country to campaign for liberal Democrats while the commonwealth's finances are falling apart, Governor Kaine was busy restoring felons' voting rights at such a dizzying rate that one wonders if he has diligently reviewed their applications. At this point last year he had restored a record 729 felons voting rights outdone only by this year's blistering pace of 758, per Delegate Janis on WRVA radio Friday afternoon.

The right to vote is a cherished value in our country. Actions by Mr. Suleman and the governor, not to mention renegade groups such as ACORN (see the CNN column of Tara Wall, deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times), devalue the votes of all law abiding citizens and the brave men and women in uniform who constantly defend us and our freedoms.

Posted below is the news release issued by the office of Attorney General Bob McDonnell. The link to the opinion itself is at the conclusion of the statement. 

McDonnell Opinion: Count Absentee Military Ballots

Opinion Finds Federal Law Preempts State Law; Federal Ballots without Witness Address Are Lawful, Must be Counted

Fairfax — Attorney General Bob McDonnell released a formal opinion today concluding that federal absentee ballots from overseas military voters lacking the printed name and address of a witness must be counted. The opinion affirms that federal law preempts state law, thus clarifying the state and federal statutes regarding the issue. The confusion centered over whether a state law requiring a witness's printed name and address controls federal absentee ballots or the federal law governs this issue. The opinion was requested by Delegate Bill Janis (R-Henrico) and is attached to this release.

In the formal opinion the Attorney General finds, "It is . . . my opinion that the applicable provision of Virginia law, § 24.2-702.1(B), interpreted to require an overseas military voter submitting only a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to include the printed name and address of the person who signs the witness statement is preempted by the provisions of the (federal) Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Finally, it is my opinion that general registrars may not reject a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot submitted by overseas military voters for the November 4, 2008 federal election that does not include a printed name and address for the person who signs the witness statement. ..."

Approximately 100 Federal Write-In Absentee Ballots have been set aside in Fairfax County pending a legal conclusion regarding the discrepancy between state and federal law. Additional Federal Write-In Absentee Ballots may also have been received in other jurisdictions. The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot is most commonly used by members of the military who are stationed overseas and have not received a state absentee ballot. It is a means by which service members can be guaranteed a vote in federal elections.

A copy of this formal opinion was provided to the State Board of Elections this afternoon.

Click here for Attorney General McDonnell's official seven page opinion.

Perfect Timing

One of our highest priorities this past General Assembly session was HB 1135, which protects religious liberty in education. The bill was patroned by Delegate William Fralin (R-17, Roanoke) and it passed easily, including a 39-1 vote in the Senate. Governor Tim Kaine made a minor amendment which was approved during the veto session last month. The bill takes effect July 1. This victory, along with one of our highest priorities for the 2007 session, a religious liberty bill protecting religious expression in public venues, patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), which also was signed into law, make significant progress toward protecting our constitutional rights from their erosion by authoritarian educrats and activist judges. I know, I know. We're extremists and alarmists with such hyperbole. At least that's what the usual suspects always claim. Okay. So is this recent case in Wisconsin hyperbole?

From www.onenewsnow.com (click the excerpt for the entire story):

School officials in Tomah, Wisconsin, are facing a lawsuit after a high school teacher there failed a student's art project because it included a cross and a reference to John 3:16. The school district argues that the student voluntarily waived his First Amendment religious freedoms when he entered the classroom.

Funny, no one ever taught me the Constitution ended at the school door. I'm pretty sure Mr. Madison would be appalled. HB 1135 specifically defends students' rights to include religious content in academic assignments. Not only that, it brings the code of Virginia in line with United States Supreme Court precedent — not to mention the intent of the Founders. The language for the new law was borrowed from federal guidelines for religious liberty in schools and modeled after a recently passed law in Texas. Virginia public schools currently use religious liberty guidelines developed more than a decade ago by then Attorney General James Gilmore. Since that time, the Supreme Court has clarified the rights of students to express their faith in the classroom. 

This recent Wisconsin situation, which has stirred up passionate feelings judging by the dozens of responses on the thread of the article linked above, isn't just a product of an over zealous and misguided teacher, something "that would never happen here." The actual need for the legislation arose after several incidents of students having their religious viewpoint rights violated — here in Virginia! Just this school year, a first grade student in a public school was denied the right to read a story to her class simply because it contained the word "God." 

Such incidents happen far too often and many go unreported. The law was necessary because teachers and administrators ignore Supreme Court precedent, federal guidelines and guidelines by the Commonwealth's attorney general. Still think "authoritarian educrat" is hyperbole? Activist judges have done their part as well, making it difficult to remedy these problems through legislation. That's changed now. 

This new law, the one last year, and the precedents and legal opinions, while they received little media attention, provide an unassailable legal foundation toward returning our Commonwealth to its rightful place as a beacon of religious freedom for the rest of the nation. Given the recent abuse of constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom in Wisconsin, could the enactment of HB 1135 had better timing?