John Watkins

Will Session End On Time?

When the House of Delegates and Senate passed their respective budgets several days ago, the most glaring difference between the two, as anticipated, was the two chambers' approaches to Medicaid expansion. To wit, Obamacare in Virginia. The Senate included expanding Obamacare in its budget despite agreement last year with the House that the issue would be kept separate from the budget so it wouldn't become a stumbling block to passing a future budget. The agreement consisted of the creation of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, which has the authority to make recommendations to the General Assembly concerning expansion. Its charter is to formulate necessary reforms for the abuse- and fraud-ridden program that state and federal governments must accept before Medicaid expansion gets anywhere near a floor vote for approval.

MIRC has yet, after almost a year's work, to draft its recommendations for reform. Instead, it continued its efforts for another year. Despite last year's agreement and MIRC's continuation, three Senate Republicans — John WatkinsWalter Stosch and Emmett Hanger — joined all 20 Democrats to passing the Senate budget with Medicaid expansion in it. The Senate and Governor Terry McAuliffe want to backtrack on last year's arrangement and want Obamacare expanded immediately.

To emphasize its position, House Republicans offered a budget floor amendment, modeled after the Senate expansion plan. It promptly went down 67-32. House Republicans have maintained that it would be irresponsible to expand Obamacare because future costs would be so great that it could cripple the state budget.

They also argue that the program is wrought with inefficiency and fraud and have proposed a first-ever outside audit before any expansion can take place. By example, former Governor Tim Kaine refused a VDOT audit for his four years and closed rest stops and other unnecessary cuts. After he left office, the audit House Republicans sought finally took place and revealed more than $1 billion in waste. There's no telling how much waste an audit of Medicaid would uncover since it is much larger than VDOT — about 21 percent of Virginia's budget and growing fast.

Most insiders in Richmond believe that the battle over Obamacare expansion will leave the state without a budget well into spring, if not longer. A new budget must be adopted by June 30 or state government could theoretically "shut down" July 1. Governor McAuliffe has stated that he intends to veto any budget sent to him that does not include Obamcare expansion and willingly shut down state government in order to get his way — not this session's much referenced, bipartisan-and-honor-your-agreements buzz phrase, "Virginia Way." That means police and fire departments without funding, teachers without pay and roads unpaved, among other disruptions.

A few days after the House passed its budget, reports surfaced that that Governor McAuliffe threatened vetoes of legislators' unrelated bills if they didn't go along with expansion,  something his office quickly denied. But delegates took to the floor later to recount the governor's bullying tactics and threats.

The House and Senate remain in conference in an attempt to settle their budget differences. But if conferees cannot come up with a solution before March 8, the General Assembly will have to adjourn without a budget — an unprecedented scenario that is growing more likely by the hour during this last week of session. Also, should a budget not pass, or a budget pass without the continuation of the MIRC, some believe that the governor will unilaterally expand Obamacare. That action could result in litigation, leaving it up to Attorney General Mark Herring to choose sides on the issue.

If it all sounds like Washington style politics and not "The Virginia Way," you're right. It's what many predicted during the campaign if Governor McAuliffe was elected. Be prepared to watch this battle go on well into the spring, and beyond.

Virginia, and "The Virginia Way," isn't for shutdowns. But it may come to that. 

Senator Colgan Dissed By Fellow Dems On Abortion Vote

On a 22-18 bipartisan vote today, the Senate of Virginia defeated a bill that would have removed language protecting taxpayers from funding abortion from Virginia's law regarding Obamacare. The bill, SB 618, was patroned by Senator Mamie Locke (D-2, Hampton). At the same time, the Senate passed SB 617, also patroned by Senator Locke, a bill that would repeal the sonogram requirement in Virginia's Informed Consent Law, on a 21-20 vote, with Lt. Governor Ralph Northam casting the tie-breaking vote. Tie votes aren't always that straightforward and this was anything but, with a controversy that may have ramifications well beyond even this session, ripping at the already stressed traditional Senate collegiality due to the unprecedented mid-session power shift. What followed left experienced General Assembly watchers saying they thought they "had seen everything until today."

After lengthy debate the bill initially went down to defeat 22-18, with Republican John Watkins (R-10, Powhatan) voting with the pro-abortion side, while the pro-life side picked up three Democrats: Senators Charles Colgan and Phillip Puckett (D-29, Tazewell), both generally pro-life, as well as, surprisingly, Toddy Puller (D-36, Mount Vernon) — a reliable pro-abortion vote. 

The Puller vote shocked everyone and, accordingly, observers expected a motion for a reconsideration vote — a procedure that allows someone from the prevailing side to ask for another vote, done as a courtesy for someone who accidentally voted the opposite of his or her intention. It can only be done once per bill unless the chamber gives unanimous consent to suspend the rule. After a few more bills were voted on, Senator Puller made the motion. A one vote flip would preserve the defeat of the bill, so no one expected the vote board to flash what, in fact, shockingly became a 20-20 tie. 

As it turned out, Senator Colgan (D-29, Manassas) the senior member of the chamber, and its President Pro Tempore, accounted for the second flipped vote when he accidentally voted "yes," even though Republican Leader Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) briefly rose prior to the vote to remind senators which bill they were reconsidering. Before long the Senate was in recess with each side plotting its floor tactics. Senator Watkins, being on the prevailing side now, made a motion for the suspension of the rules in order for Senator Colgan — who, by all accounts, was visibly distressed by his mistake and asked for another chance — to vote his conscious.

The vote to suspend the rules was 37-1, with Senator Locke providing the solitary vote necessary to prevent the third vote which would have sunk her bill for good. But make no mistake: The entire pro-abortion Democrat bloc was against the motion, allowing Senator Locke, as the bill's patron, to take the hit in order for the other pro-abortion Democrats to affect the appearance of bipartisanship.

Senator Norment took the floor again. Some anticipated that he would take advantage of Senate rules to kill remaining Democrat bills on the calendar. That is, as today was "Crossover Day" (when all bills originating in the Senate and House must be dealt with by those respective chambers) bills that had not been on the floor for three days needed unanimous consent to get their final up and down votes, or automatically die. He told Democrats that was not the GOP plan, but reminded them in no uncertain terms of the unprecedented nature of their actions. Some took that as an implied threat. We shall see what, if anything, GOP senators have in mind. Some suggested that he should have used that leverage to get a new vote.

TFF President Victoria Cobb issued this statement:

The evidence continues to mount showing that liberals in Richmond are interested only in power and bludgeoning even their own members to deny their consciences. Make no mistake — there were more members of the Virginia Senate today that opposed both abortion bills than supported them. It was only by mistake that one passed. Clearly, among Senate Democrat leaders, orthodoxy to the abortion industry takes precedent over the consciences even of their own members.

SB 617 would remove Virginia's requirement that a woman receive an ultrasound and be offered the opportunity to view it prior to an abortion. SB 618 would have removed the "opt-out" language allowed by Obamacare that protects taxpayers from subsidizing abortion in Virginia's federal health care exchange.

 

 

Tea Party Queen Radtke Files Paperwork To Run For U.S. Senate

As we speculated previously (here and here), Jamie Radtke, the organizer of the successful Virginia Tea Party convention in October, will run for office. Specifically, for the U.S. Senate in the 2012 Republican primary, eschewing a 2011 primary opportunity in the 10th Virginia Senate district against GOP incumbent John Watkins. At least, today, she filed the official paperwork to declare her candidacy for that office (see Anita Kumar at Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog). In a statement, she said:

I am the mother of three young children, and my first priority is both to protect them today and protect their future. I truly worry about what the next five years holds for our children and the nation, given this climate of reckless and immoral spending. Someone must step into the gap so that our children and America are not crushed in the coming years under the weight of insurmountable debt and debilitating taxes. 

The front runner is former governor and senator George Allen, who lost the seat in 2006 to the incumbent, Democrat Jim Webb. Delegate Bob Marshall and Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart also are considering a run. Hampton Roads businessman Bert Mizusawa, who lost the GOP second district House nomination to now Representative-Elect Scott Rigell, also may throw his hat in the ring. However, former 11th district Representative Tom Davis seems to have taken himself out of consideration, preferring instead, "to have left Congress undefeated and unindicted. You like to keep it that way."

Budget Amendments: Convince General Assembly To Uphold Governor McDonnell's Amendment Limiting Elective Abortions

Governor Bob McDonnell late Tuesday amended the FY 2011-12 state budget to prohibit taxpayer funding of most elective, low-income abortions. The Family Foundation and several of our pro-life partners in Richmond have been advocating for just such an amendment for several years. For years, Virginia, despite its reputation as a "conservative" state, has funded abortions well beyond what federal law requires. Although not all elective abortions will be prohibited under the amendment, it would remove Virginia from the small list of states that funds elective (i.e., "health" of the mother) abortions. The General Assembly must accept this amendment at next Wednesday's veto session in order for it to become law. During this year's legislative session, a similar amendment was passed by the House of Delegates but rejected by the radical pro-abortion Senate hierarchy — and that is really where the battle lies. Regardless of what actions are taken by the governor, the Virginia Senate has been the body that has blocked nearly every pro-life effort for several years.

In fact, we wouldn't need the governor to introduce pro-life amendments at all if the Senate would pass budgets that include such language. It is clear that it will not be until the Senate reflects the values of Virginia that we will see these victories. The opportunity to make those changes is quickly approaching, as all 40 Senate seats are up for election in 2011.

But for now — over the next few days — we must put our time, energy and resources into this amendment to ban publicly financed elective abortions. This would be a tremendous victory, but to do this, we need your help.

We believe the key to sustaining the amendment lies with five key Senators:

Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk): 757-483-9173 district13@senate.virginia.gov

John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian): 804-379-2063 district10@senate.virginia.gov

Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville): 276-638-2315 district20@senate.virginia.gov

Chuck Colgan (D-29, Manassas): 703-368-0300 district29@senate.virginia.gov 

Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell): 276-979-8181 district38@senate.virginia.gov

Contact these senators today by phone numbers or e-mail adresses listed above and urge them to vote yes on Governor McDonnell’s elective low-income abortion amendment. With your help, we can make a significant advance in Virginia for the preservation of life and realize the fruits of last November's hard work.

What Happened And How: "Choose Life" License Plates Pass Senate!

Here are the details of the shocking development on the Senate floor within the last hour which is bound to have the knickers of Planned Parenthood types in a twist and assorted liberals in an extended spot of bother, especially when cars with "Choose Life" license plates zip past them along the streets and byways of their tony precincts. Background: SB 801 was a bill patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) that would have not only created "Choose Life" license plates, but would have sent part of its proceeds to pregnancy resource centers around Virginia. Unfortunately, the bill died on a 6-6 vote in the Senate Transportation Committee a couple of days ago when two Republican senators, Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) and John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian), abstained from voting.

Opposition: This was a simple commonsense bill. Even to people who claim abortion is a last resort and who claim to be for "choice" it should have been an innocent piece of legislation. But the pro-abortion opposition —which cannot tolerate even anything optional that promotes life —denounced the plates as political in nature, and thus not allowable by law. Further, a family practitioner attacked crisis pregnancy centers in her testimony. 

On the floor: When another license plate bill came up on the Senate floor a little while ago, SB 817, its patron, Senator Richard Stuart (R-28, Montross), asked the body to accept the bill's committee substitute (a pro forma procedure), and was so moved by the Senate. Then Senator Cuccinelli rose and offered an amendment to include the Choose Life plates.

Reaction: Immediately, Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) asked the chair, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, to rule the amendment non-germane. However, the LG quickly replied that while he may have had an argument in the original bill, now that Senator Saslaw and the rest of the Senate had adopted the committee amendments — which expanded the bill to include a panoply of plates that the LG gladly rattled off — he had no case. Just like that, there was a vote on agreeing to the amendment and it squeaked by 20-19. One pro forma procedural vote later, the new bill passed 33-5.

Victory: We're still waiting for the LIS site to post the yeas and neas, but the parliamentary maneuvering here was spectacular and dramatic, not to mention the glee we had in seeing Senator Saslaw tied in knots by Senate rules! This also shows, at least as far as some legislation, the Senate GOP is more effective as a one-seat minority then they were as a majority, mostly because it forces them to stick together (at least sometimes) and they want to prove they deserve to return to majority status by flashing some conservative credentials. What would actually happen if they recaptured control is a question for another day. Right now, it's time to enjoy this and work for SB 817's passage in the House.

As Crossover Approaches, It's All To Play For

Tuesday is "crossover" day in the General Assembly, the day when work on bills from their respective chambers must be complete. The past two weeks have been long and intense, as you have been able to tell by reading this blog and by the number of e-mail alerts you've received. (If you don't receive our e-mail alerts, you should. They are informative, fun, fast and have received critical acclaim. People tell us that when they read them, they feel as if they were in the committee room. Click here to sign up.)   Several bills in The Family Foundation's bill profile were acted on recently. Here's an update:

SB 1270: Abortion Center Licensing Requirement (Support)

This legislation, introduced by Senator Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester), would have required abortion centers to become licensed, have life-saving equipment in their facilities and submit to one yearly inspection. It was drafted to make abortion centers safer for the women who visit them. In fact, the original bill had numerous regulations, many of which pro-abortion activists claim are onerous and designed put these centers out of business. Anticipating this argument, Senator Vogel stripped down the bill to the three simple requirements listed above.

The fact is that there are several types of medical facilities that are much less invassive, such as podiatry centers; and altogether different types of facilities, such as puppy mills, that have much tougher regulations. Furthermore, all medical disciplines and specialities have oversight by peer review boards, with the notable exception of abortionists.

Finally, the pro-abortion side traditionally argues that the Board of Medicine regulates Virginia's abortion clinics. Fine. Senator Vogel presented SJ 276, which the Senate passed unanimously last year, that slams the Board of Medicine, citing a 1999 JLARC report, that discovered "the Board of Medicine  took too long to resolve cases, did not adequately protect the public from substandard practice by doctors, and did not handle medical malpractice cases adequately," among other charges. When confronted with its hypocrisy and the truth, the pro-abortion side did the only thing it could do — ignore it.

So, this bill, which seemed like a logical and bipartisan issue, failed in the Senate Education and Health Committee by a party line vote of 10-5. So much for "safe, legal and rare." Instead, in Virginia, abortion centers remain an exempted class, untouchable and protected by their overlords in the Senate. Read more about this issue here and see video of the Ed and Health hearing here.

SB 801: "Choose Life" License Plates (Support)

This legislation, from Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), not only would have created "Choose Life" license plates, but would have sent part of the proceeds from the plates to pregnancy resource centers around Virginia. The bill was debated in the Senate Transportation Committee. Of course, the opposition denounced the plates, claiming they are political in nature and out of the purview for recognition.

Even more infuriating, a family practitioner unashamedly attacked crisis pregnancy centers in her testimony. The bill died in committee by a vote of 6-6 with Senators Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) and John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian) abstaining. Senator Blevins was in the room up until just before the vote and then walked out — leaving a "proxy" vote of "abstain" behind.

HB 2579: Informed Consent, Ultrasound Requirement (Support)

Delegate Kathy Bryon's (R-22, Lynchburg) bill would require abortionists to take an ultrasound and allow the woman to view it if she desires before having an abortion. The Family Foundation supports this bill not only because it would give women medically accurate information to aid their decision making, but also with hopes that more women would choose life after clearly seeing that life inside them. The House Courts of Justice Committee reported this bill 15-6. It now goes to the House floor.   

HB 2634: Providing Information on Fetal Pain

Another informed consent bill, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), would require that a woman be told that her unborn child could feel pain during the abortion process and provide her with information on anesthesia for the child. Again, the House Courts of Justice Committee passed this bill 17-5, and the House will vote on it this week. See some of the sub-committee debate here.  

HB 1624, HB 1625, HB 1726, HB 2385, SB 945, SB 1247:  Legislation on "Sexual Orientation" (Oppose)

With homosexual rights advocates feeling emboldened by recent election victories, every effort has been made this legislative season to make sure that the term "sexual orientation" finds its way into Virginia code. It has been attempted in every form from group life insurance and housing discrimination, to making sure that it becomes a protected class under Virginia's human rights laws. Any incremental step they believe they can take, they will. Thankfully, we can report that all efforts to expand the homosexual agenda have failed thus far, with the exception of SB 945 (life insurance). 

These battles are far from over and other skirmishes over other issues undoubtedly will materialize. If ever it was all to play for, this year's second half is it.