Delegate Ward Armstrong

This Just In: Democrat Controlled Senate Transportation Committee Kills Planned Parenthood License Plate Bill!

Yesterday, the Democrat controlled Senate Finance Committee did something very unusual — they aimed their wrath on a Democrat House colleague, Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), and purposely killed his property rights bill. This afternoon, the Democrat controlled Transportation Committee proved it could kill a fellow Democrat's bill by accident! Here's what happened:

We're all familiar with the Planned Parenthood license plate bill by now (HB 1108). Patroned byDelegate Bob Brink (D-48, Arlington), the bill would allow the abortion provider its own plate with slogan ("Trust Women, Respect Choice"). Money from its sales was designated to go to the coffers of the partisan political organization. However, the House of Delegates accepted a floor amendment by Todd Gilbert (R-15, Shenandoah) to redirect the money instead to the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund. This amended bill was what was before the Transportation Committee.

Now, the Senate finished its floor business today earlier than the House, but instead of waiting for Delegate Brink to attend to introduce his bill, committee chair Yvonne Miller (D-5, Norfolk) decided to hear the bill without him. Not rare, but still unusual. In addition, two senators, Edd Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania) and Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) were absent taking committee membership down to 13. A motion was made to amend the bill to redirect sale proceeds back to Planned Parenthood. The vote was close, 7-6, in favor of the amendment. Senator Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell), a pro-life Democrat (speaking of same), voted with all but one of the Republicans against the amendment. Senator John Watkins (R-10, Powhatan) voted with the Dems to give them what they wanted. False sense of security. Thinking they had the votes, Chairman Miller proceeded with a vote on the amended bill — but it went down, 7-6! Now, not only is there no funding, there's no plate! The entire bill is . . . dead!

What happened? Simple. Voting for amendments rarely is a big deal. Many senators do it to give the patron the legislation he or she wants so the committee can cast an up or down vote on what it is he or she is trying to accomplish. That's all the Senator Watkins did. On the vote on final passage, he voted "no" with all the Republicans and Senator Puckett, whose decision was probably hardened by the possibility of Planned Parenthood getting license plate money.

I can hear the "Ooooooooops" coming from Senator Miller now. Better still, the hissy fit coming from Planned Parenthood! Great news — and fun — all the way around. Gotta love those unintended consequences. Still, there's another Planned Parenthood plate bill alive, as part of an omnibus special license plate package, including one to benefit a low income children meals program. That PP plate bill funding has been stripped, too. However, its patron, Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), has threatened to block the whole ball of wax if the PP funding isn't restored. But liberals never take food from the children, do they? The pro-abort crack-up gets wackier every day!

Quick hypothetical: If the two absent senators were there, the outcome wouldn't have changed. Even if Senator Houck voted for the plate, Senator Blevins has been consistently against all specialized license plates. He either would've voted no or abstained. A tie would have killed the bill.

Virginia Senate Trounces Your Constitutional Private Property Rights, Empowers Government At Your Expense!

Just a couple of hours ago, the Senate Finance Committee (see vote) trounced on your constitutional rights to just compensation in eminent domain cases. Actually, it's worse than that. It trounced on your rights simply to present evidence to juries in eminent domain cases! The following is the news release, just issued, by the patron of HB 652, Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville):

Senate Committee Kills Bill to Protect Landowners

~Armstrong vows to continue to fight for average citizens~

After passing the House with a 98-1 vote, Delegate Ward Armstrong’s “Landowner’s Rights Bill” (HB652) was killed in a Senate Finance Committee on a 10-3 vote Wednesday morning. Senators Reynolds, Watkins, and Hanger were the only members voting in favor of the legislation.

HB652 would have provided that any restriction, change, or loss of access to or from property taken under the power of eminent domain to be considered as an element in assessing damages for the purposes of determining just compensation.

"I’m very disappointed that the committee chose to side with government instead of the average citizen," said Armstrong. "The worst thing that a government can do to someone is deprive them of their liberty; the second worst thing is to deprive them of their property without just compensation. I intend to introduce the measure again next year."

The bill was supported by a variety of groups including: The VA Farm Bureau, National Federation of Independent Businesses, The VA Agribusiness Council, and The Family Foundation.

Property Rights: Your Rights? Or The Government's Right To Take It From You?

Yesterday, HB 652, the property rights reform bill, was referred by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee to the Senate Finance Committee because of an alleged "fiscal impact" to the state. The bill will be heard tomorrow morning in Finance. The impact simply is hypothetical, conjecture and/or assumption. Take your pick. Fiscal Impact Statements are supposed to identify the cost of bills that require certain new expenses, not something VDOT says "might happen." This is nothing more than big government bureaucracy trying to kill a bill that would have them rightly compensate people whose property they take. Yesterday, in Courts of Justice, when committee Chairman Henry Marsh (D-16, Richmond) said he was bringing up a motion to refer the bill to Finance, Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath) was rightly surprised. He asked if the bill had a Fiscal Impact Statement. The reply from a senator opposed to the bill was, "Yes, a big one. One that will affect future budgets." Oh, how the big government lobby has them fooled. There was some discussion, but the bill had its course set — not much anyone could do at that point. The vote was taken and it was sent to Finance unanimously.

But facts won't die. When the House Appropriations Committee thoroughly vetted this bill, it found no fiscal impact! There is no more of a fine tooth comb in the General Assembly than the House Appropriations Committee. But the forces of big government, such as lobbyists for the counties and cities, as well as VDOT, will do everything they can to prevent liberty and scuttle property rights that affect families, small businesses and farms.

Were HB 652 to become law, it would go a long way toward making whole families whose businesses, homes and farms are horribly affected by eminent domain. The bill, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) and co-patroned by several Republicans, passed the House 98-1. It would allow property owners a chance to present evidence that a government property taking has rendered other property useless, and therefore receive adequate compensation. It is a fairness bill — it guarantees nothing — only that such evidence can be presented to a jury in eminent domain cases. The government can still make its case and if it has a good argument it will win. Fair is fair.

But the big government types — who use your tax money to lobby against you — are trying hard to kill this bill. They say it is "too expensive" even though all alleged "costs" are speculative. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) said it best: "I don’t know how VDOT can arrive at an impact. It’s like they’re predicting juries!" We agree and if VDOT and other agencies say they’ll have to pay more money, it’s an admission that they have been ripping off landowners in Virginia for decades. Enough of that! Let them take only the land they need and pay a fair price for it or don’t take it at all — then they won’t have to worry about a "fiscal impact."

According to our property rights expert witnesses, this is the biggest eminent domain reform law in Virginia in decades, apart from the 2007 law that defines public use. It would be a shame for it to get this far only for a Senate committee to rule against the people in favor of big government interests whose appetite for your tax money never abates.

The Finance Committee meets at 9:00 tomorrow morning. It has a short docket, so a lot of attention will be focused on this bill. Do you part to ensure constitutional protections of property rights. Please contact members (click here) of the Senate Finance Committee now and ask them to pass HB 652.

The Intrigue In Senate Courts Of Justice Never Stops

The intrigue this session in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee continues. Remember the saga of SB 504? It was in COJ, and passed out of a sub-committee, only to be abruptly referred to the Committee on Education and Health. Today, for some unexplained reason (and it may be on the up and up) HB 652, a property rights/just compensation bill, which was supposed to be heard in the COJ Civil Sub-committee was (with selected other bills) singled out to be carried over straight to the full committee on Monday morning. If HB 652 passes there, it likely will be referred to the Finance Committee because of an alleged "fiscal impact." Oh, the things I wish I could tell. But can't. But hope to once the coast is clear!

Back to matter at hand: HB 652 is a great bill that will go a long way to making whole families whose businesses, homes and farms are horribly affected in eminent domain cases. The bill, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) and co-patroned by several Republicans, passed the House 98-1, and the Appropriations Committee said it caused no fiscal impact to the Commonwealth. However, we think there may be some skeptics in the Senate, so please act (see below). The bill would allow property owners a chance to present evidence that a government taking has rendered other property useless, and therefore receive adequate compensation. It is a fairness bill — it guarantees nothing — only that a farmer, small business owner or family can present the evidence to a jury in eminent domain cases. The government can still make its case and if it has a good argument it will win. Fair is fair.

But the big government types — counties, cities and VDOT, who use your tax money to lobby against you — are trying hard to kill this bill. They say it is "too expensive" even though all alleged "costs" are speculative. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) said it best: "I don’t know how VDOT can arrive at an impact. It’s like they’re predicting juries!" We agree, and if VDOT and other agencies say they’ll have to pay more money, it’s an admission that it has been ripping off landowners in Virginia for decades already! Enough of that! (See refutation of FIS.) Let them take only the land they need and pay a fair price for it or don’t take it at all — then they won’t have to worry about a "fiscal impact."

According to our property rights expert witnesses, this is the biggest eminent domain reform law in Virginia in decades, apart from the 2007 law that defines public use. It would be a shame for it to get this far only for a Senate committee to rule against the people in favor of big government interests whose appetite for your tax money never abates.

So, please contact members of the Senate Courts of Justice (here) and Finance Committees now and ask them to pass HB 652.

Property Rights Bill Faces Key Senate Test Tomorrow!

Yesterday, we posted an update on HB 652, a bill that would allow property owners to present certain evidence to juries in eminent domain just compensation cases. The bill, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), will be up tomorrow for a key vote at a 4:00 hearing in the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee. We don't know yet if the big government lobby will try to make a last stand to block or water down this important legislation in the Senate. Their attempt in the House failed. We and several allies are working hard to ensure the bill gets reported unamended. But, to give you a taste of what has happened in the past — and what may happen still — here is video of the hearing in the House Appropriations Sub-committee on Transportation. You will see a VDOT representative try to defend a speculative Fiscal Impact Statement designed to sink the bill because of alleged costs to the Commonwealth. Notice his nervousness. He knows the numbers don't fly (as we explained here).

The sub-committee didn't buy it either. It unanimously reported it to the full committee — which deals with all money bills and knows a red herring when it sees one — and which also reported it without a dissenting vote, thanks in large part to Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) who spoke some plain common sense during its final vetting. Then it passed the full House 98-1. But overwhelming numbers in one body has never stopped determined opposition from trying in the other chamber. Remember: Contacting committee members (see here) never hurts.

Constitutional property rights upheld in the House. Will the Senate follow tomorrow?

Brink's Holdup

Monday afternoon was an interesting day on the floor of the House of Delegates. It involved some tactical maneuvering as members debated Delegate Robert Brink’s (D-48, Arlington) Planned Parenthood license plate bill (HB 1108). It's a bill that would create a specialty license plate that reads "Trust Women, Respect Choice." For each plate sold, the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood would receive $15 of the $25 plate fee. But something happened on the way to the bank — or, rather, the abortion center. Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock) offered a floor amendment to change the specialty plate’s recipient from Planned Parenthood to the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund. The amendment passed by a healthy margin (56-39) over the objections of Delegate Brink and other pro-abortion lawmakers — and much to their chagrin. Then the bill passed, as amended, 77-22. Let's just call it "Brink's holdup."

The Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund was created in 2007 to "support women and families who are facing unplanned pregnancy" and is managed by the Virginia Board of Health. A brainchild of Senator Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell) and Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), the overarching goals of the fund are to provide funding for ultrasound machines, parenting programs, domestic violence/sexual assault education, vocational/academic support, and free home visits by nurses. Sounds worthy. After all, Planned Parenthood is for "choice," right? But Planned Parenthood considers the amendment a devastating blow.

Delegate Brink told the House that Delegate Gilbert’s amendment was unfriendly in nature and urged its defeat. Delegate David Englin (D-45, Alexandria) argued that the change of the fund was unconstitutional, saying that it specifically targeted Planned Parenthood, a misreading of court precedent. Court rulings have said if one viewpoint is allowed on a license plate another viewpoint must also be allowed, but it does not address the funding aspects of the license plates.

Delegate Gilbert responded by saying that the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund was a better fit for the language of the plate ("Trust Women, Respect Choice"). Citing Planned Parenthood’s opposition to pro-woman legislation, including informed consent requirements that do exactly that — trust women — the stated that plate funds, if directed to Planned Parenthood, would not go to an organization in conformity with the plate’s message. Tuesday, when the vote on final passage was up, Delegate Brink made a long pronouncement on the floor that sounded as if he would conclude by asking for the bill to be struck. Instead, he urged its passage, as unfavorable as he was to the amendment, in hopes he can get a better deal in the Senate. So, as it turns out, it really is all about the money for this money making machine.

Ironically, in its initial passage, the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund was backed by both Planned Parenthood and The Family Foundation due to the Fund’s focus on striving to assist pregnant women. So, the moral of this story is, if you're Planned Parenthood, and you want specialty license plate funding, come clean with your message. Because trusting women is the last thing you really mean.

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: Big Win For Property Rights In Virginia

In what amounted to a sweep of a day-night double header today, HB 652, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), a bill that would allow property owners to make a case to juries in just compensation hearings for damages incurred by land no longer accessible though not taken, swept by VDOT's objections and its speculative Fiscal Impact Statement in the House Appropriations Transportation Sub-committee by a 7-0 vote. It then swept through the full committee early this evening by a 22-0 vote and should now go on the uncontested calendar on the House floor early next week. This is a huge win in the effort to reform eminent domain laws in Virginia. We'll have more details on this, including video of VDOT's arguments, Monday.

Property Rights Win Big In House Sub-Committee Tonight!

A couple of hours ago, Virginia property owners won a big victory over government bureaucrats when the House Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee voted unanimously to report a bill to the full committee that would allow Virginians whose property is taken by eminent domain to present to juries a case for just compensation that would include property no longer accessible because of the taking. If the bill becomes law, a property owner who had 25 yards taken, but which rendered another 50 yards unusable, could then present that evidence to a jury and seek compensation for the entire 75 yards, rather than just the 25 yards. Although the vote was unanimous on HB 652, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), lobbyists representing taxpayer funded government entities such as VDOT and local governments (Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League) tried to take it to their bosses, the taxpayers, as they do every year. However, after closely considering an amendment to water down the bill, property rights members of the committee, such as Delegates Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach), Manoli Loupassi (R-68, Richmond) and sub-committee Chairman Clay Athey (R-18, Front Royal), brought "the temperature of the committee" (a phrase used a lot around here) back to "hot" for the taxpayers. 

The bill now goes to the full committee on Friday! Please contact members of the House Courts of Justice Committee (click here) and ask them to report the bill to the House floor.

Social Extremists

Well, that didn't take long. Just a few days after yet another poll shows him lagging behind Republican candidate for Governor Bob McDonnell, Democrat Creigh Deeds went on the offensive on social issue (Washington Post) this weekend in an effort to motivate wake up reassure his base (so much for social issues being a distraction from the "important" issues like the economy and jobs).

Anyway, the label tossing has begun, with each side using the word "extreme" almost as much as Obama uses the word Czar (well, maybe not that much). It is always useful, though not very common, to do a little compare/contrast when talking about "extreme" positions on issues like abortion. So, as the Post article touts Deeds' opposition to the ban on partial birth abortion and parental consent laws, let's reflect way back to 2003 when those bills passed the General Assembly in overwhelming numbers (enough to override then-Gov. Mark Warner's killer amendments). It is interesting to see what other abortion "extremists" joined then-Delegate Bob McDonnell (and 105 other members of the GA on Partial Birth and 99 other members of the GA on parental consent) in support of these "extreme" measures:

Senator Russ Potts (R) (D) (I) Senator John Chichester (R) (D) (?) Senator Chuck Colgan (D) (now chair of Senate Finance Committee) Senator Edd Houck (D) (now chair of Senate Ed and Health Committee) Senator Phil Puckett (D) Delegate Ward Armstrong (House Democrat minority leader)

Oh, and the partial birth ban was supported by none other than former Democrat candidate for governor Brian Moran. That's just to name a few.

Now there's a line up of right wing extremists if I've ever seen one.

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.