Delegate Steve Landes

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. 

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.

High Water Mark

This afternoon has been the high water mark thus far for the Special Tax Session of the General Assembly. Moments ago, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw's 35 percent increase in the gas tax passed the Senate on a party-line vote of 21-16 (interestingly, two Tidewater Senators, Blevins and Quayle are absent today . . . hmmm). The bill now goes to the House where . . . for two hours this afternoon the House Rules committee drilled the state's transportation secretary and Minority Leader Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) on the Governor's tax hike bill. Republican Delegates Cox, Hogan, Landes, Griffith, and Speaker Howell, really led the charge. The most interesting moments were when Armstrong and the Governor's representative argued that "raising taxes won't affect people's actions" and that they don't believe higher taxes on new cars will reduce car sales or a higher tax on selling a house will make it harder to sell a house. Except when it comes to the gas tax, where Armstrong argued that a higher tax will hurt sales. Republicans were incredulous. 

No vote was taken, delayed by the Speaker until "after the Senate does something." Word is that the entire House of Delegates will get the opportunity to vote on the Governor's package, and on the statewide hike in the gas tax. Neither will be killed in committee. Republicans want Delegate Brian Moran (D-46, Alexandria), candidate for Governor, and others on record. 

There are also rumors that the General Assembly will be back for at least a day or two next week.

If nothing else, this week has proven to be great political theater. No one believes any policy of substance will materialize, but the debates have been great and the competing strategies interesting to see evolve. Only time will tell which strategy will prevail.