Johnny Joannou

Proposed Constitutional Amendments Killed Quickly In House Sub-Committee

In a kind odd of legislative twin-killing, the House Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Constitutional Amendments offed two proposed state constitutional amendments this morning. Governor Bob McDonnell's proposal to restore voting rights to certain felons, HJ 539, carried by Delegate Greg Habeeb (R-8, Salem), took the first hit, even with Ken Cuccinelli, making a rare Attorney General witness appearance before a sub-committee, in favor. The first hint that the resolution was going down, before a packed General Assembly Building Fourth Floor West Conference Room, with interested persons spilling well out into the hallway, was when the sub-committee rolled all proposed resolutions on the subject, including Delegate Habeeb's, into HJ 535, patroned by Democrat Delegate Charniele Herring of Alexandria — saving the large Republican majority from killing a Republican governor's legislation. ("Rolling" is a consolidation of similar bills into another existing bill to streamline a committee's meeting agenda.)

In this case, Delegate Herring's version became the resolution of record and, therefore, as the third ranking House Democrat, much more favorable to the sword. It died on a 6-1 vote to "pass by indefinitely" with one of the two sub-committee Democrats (Delegate Johnny Joannou of Portsmouth) voting with the GOP members. Sources indicate that many Republicans not only had serious policy questions about the content of the proposal, but took exception to a lack of notification by the governor — they heard about it for the first time Wednesday night during his State of the Commonwealth Address.

HJ 665, meant to repeal Virginia's Marriage Amendment, and patroned by Delegate Scott Surovell (D-44, Fairfax), met a similar fate, but for different reasons. On policy, the conservative sub-committee completely disagreed with Delegate Surovell's rationale, no amount of time for discussion would've mattered, and there was no need for parliamentary disguises. The people have spoken on this one and at least three-quarters of the states are in agreement — trying to portray maintaining the definition of traditional marriage as "extreme" is disingenuous at best. The sword fell swiftly via voice vote with only Democrat Algie Howell of Norfolk opposing the motion to pass by indefinitely.

Central Radio Eminent Domain Case To Be Appealed To VIrginia Supreme Court

In what could be a landmark property rights case, it looks like the Central Radio eminent domain lawsuit against the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority will enter a new phase. Attorneys for the 78-year-old company, which does vital work for the U.S. Navy and employs more than 100 people, on Thursday will announce they will appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court to stop the condemnation of Central Radio and other properties for private economic development at Old Dominion Village. (The news conference is set for the company's offices in Norfolk at 3:30. Attorneys from the Norfolk law firm Waldo & Lyle will provide details of the appeal.) The NRHA, which has hounded Central Radio for years, and RHAs around Virginia have been a particular menace to private property owners in the commonwealth for decades, swiping land from hard working family-owned and small business owners in order to fulfill their centrally planned ideals that often include turning the property over to larger private entities and developers. (Hampton Roads area governments have been particularly lustful of others' property.)

But this case is particularly heinous because not only does the NRHA want to forcefully take Central Radio's property to hand it over to another private concern that it says will develop the land better, it knows it will put the company out of business because its contract with the Navy stipulates that it is located within a certain distance of the Navy's facility — and it has been at its current location for 50 years.

Adding further insult, the City of Norfolk is attempted to silence Central Radio's free speech rights with a threat to fine it $1,000 a day for hanging a banner from its building informing the public of its fight with the NRHA. The city says the size of the sign exceeds city a ordinance. Oh, by the way, Old Dominion University, which a beneficiary of the property taking, routinely displays signage of equal dimensions in the same neighborhood.

The fight on the additional legal front means more expense and hassle for Vice President and Co-Owner Bob Wilson and Central Radio, when it could be using that money to reinvest in the company (which he and his employees did build). Nothing like government of the government, for the government and by the government. (See Norfolk-Virginian Pilot op-ed by Steve Simpson and Erica Smith, attorneys at the Institute for Justice and an earlier news account by the same paper, here.)

In addition to Central Radio's attorneys and Mr. Wilson, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will speak at the news conference to discuss how the abuse of eminent domain power against private property owners across Virginia dramatizes the need for the constitutional amendment on property rights that will be on Virginia's ballot this November. It is, of course, opposed by local governments, who will use our tax money to defeat a measure to guarantee our rights. However, come November, on Question One, Virginians will have the opportunity to restore in some measure government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Governor Bob McDonnell signs legislation authorizing the vote this November for Virginians to ratify the proposed state constitutional amendment to protect private property rights from state and local government's power of eminent domain. Sitting, on the left, is Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Standing behind him, from left, are the legislation's patrons, Delegate Rob Bell, Senator Mark Obenshain and Delegate Johnny Joannou. Standing, front row, on the right, is Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb.

House Sensitivity Caucus Announces Annual Awards

Although the end of session may provoke emotions ranging from physical relief (the meat grinder is over) to mental relief (the legislative sausage making is over) to melancholy (friends and colleagues going home for a year), there is one thing we greatly look forward to: The House Sensitivity Caucus Awards, presented the last Friday of session each year. In a year truly turned upside down, epitomized remarkably by the staid Senate being more entertaining than the rowdy House, the Sensitivity Caucus Awards capture real atmosphere of the General Assembly: good-natured and sincere willingness to work together, despite the negative reporting that overwhelms mainstream media's sparse coverage. The Sensitivity Caucus, one of many intra-legislative coaltions, is a semi-secret cadre of House members who, throughout session, observe and make note of all 100 members' (and some staff, as we found out) rhetorical and habitual idiosyncrasies. It awards those members who fit certain parameters and who make themselves (in)famous for certain statements, proclivity to speak no matter what the occasion and willingness to serve as instant experts on topics far and wide. Both quality and quantity are recognized.  It's non-partisan and all offending (in a very good and fun sense). While there are many caucuses, the Sensitivity Caucus

Some of the members are Steve Landes (R-25, Verona), Terry Kilgore (R-1, Gate City) and Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock). The caucus even creates teams and "drafts" members in a secret competition of "pop-ups" — members who get up and speak the most. Not only that, but this year they added awards this year to reflect behavior in committee. Whether on the floor or in committee, there was plenty of material this year, and each award pronouncement and explanation was greeted with loud bipartisan laughs (see Richmond Times-Dispatch's Virginia Politics Blog).

The award winners were:

Vivian Watts (D-39, Annandale);

Kay Kory (D-38, Falls Church) as Best Team Player for her adoring gaze at Minority Leader David Toscano (D-57, Charlottesville) during his perfunctory challenges to conservative bills;

Barbara Comstock (R-34, McLean) for the Homeland Security Award, for her more than casual references to her federal experience in speaking up on bills not her own;

Gilbert for the Wish I Hadn't Said It Award for his mention of a particular "lifestyle choice;"

Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico) for the On Board Award, which exemplifies action in committee, for the time he said in the Appropriations Committee that several organizations were "on board with this bill, the governor is on board with this bill, and I'm on board with this bill" (it was his own bill);

Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth) for the I Don't Practice Law In This Area Award, for the phrase he repeatedly prefaces his remarks with when fighting passionately for eminent domain reform (which he ultimately won);

Anne B. Crockett-Stark (R-6, Wytheville) for the Breakfast With The Devil Award, for using that phrase in a rousing speech she made on a gun bill;

House Clerk Paul Nardo, the first-ever staff winner, for the Speaker's Award, for keeping Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Fredericksburg) more or less in line, on time and moving along;

Scott Garrett (R-23, Lynchburg) for the Cheerleader Award, for his much continued, solo clapping after a standing ovation had long since finished in honor of a speech given by Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-66, Colonial Heights);

Greg Habeeb (R-8, Salem) for the Freshman Of The Year Award, which, caucus leaders assured us, was a tough competition that lasted three or four ballots due to the many talented rookie legislators, for asking a lot of questions (he shouldn't be asking). Further hint: He's not a freshman!

The final award was the granddaddy of them all, the coveted Pop-Up Award. It's the Heisman Trophy of the General Assembly. It's given to the member who has tallied the most floor speeches, who pops out of his or her seat to speak the most on any and all issues. According to Kilgore, there was a lot of competition this year. He said, "There are a lot of people in this chamber who want to tell us what they know." So much so, that a first-ever Honorable Mention Award was given to freshman Alphonso Lopez (D-49, Arlington).

But in the end, there was no suspense. No one jumps out of his seat more frequently, nor with more brazenness, the one who's speeches have been dubbed "Morrissey Moments," than "Fightin'" Joe Morrissey (D-74, Henrico) himself, who popped up 51 times this session, more than one of the entire teams. True to form, as Speaker Howell called the chamber back to order, the first person in his queue to speak was, none other than, Morrissey, who had his own ad hoc Sensitivity Award: The Too Much Information Award. Delegate Scott Surovell (D-44, Mount Vernon) was the front runner early on for a floor speech he made bemoaning Virginia's traffic congestion, a condition that, apparently, affects the sanctity of his marriage (see video here).

But he had nothing on Delegate David Albo (R-42, Fairfax), who went into great detail on the floor on February 24 about how the ultrasound bill affected an evening with him and his wife. See (or not) the painful and inartful details here. Why, Morrissey, rightly wondered, after 12 years of marriage, did Albo find it necessary to slyly slip his arm around his wife's shoulder? More curious is that viewing the "Redskins Channel" is an apparent prerequisite for mood acquisition. So, appropriately, Morrissey presented Albo an oversize poster of his head superimposed on the Redskins' number 21. Quipped Speaker Howell, "What's nice about that is that it has his IQ on the jersey, too."

Quote Of The Day: Defining (And Repealing) Washington, D.C.

This morning the House Privileges and Elections Committee voted to report the Repeal Amendment (HJ 542) to the floor by a vote of 15-7. All 14 Republicans were joined by one Democrat, Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth). The resolution is patroned by Delegate James LeMunyon (R-67, Chantilly) and is heavily supported by House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Fredericksburg), did not go through sub-committee. It was the only legislation heard in the committee and discussion lasted more than an hour — some of it enlightening and, inevitably, some very disappointing, including opponents' injection of race into the debate. While opposition lawmakers tried to raise incendiary, irrelevant and inconsistent points, committee proponents and a plethora of witnesses (including The Family Foundationunderlined the necessity of rebalancing power with Washington, D.C., and the necessary re-establishment of our founding system of federalism. That's where we get our Quote of the Day, from Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico).

Responding to Delegate Mark Sickles' (D-43, Fairfax) contention that while Washington, D.C., doesn't do things efficiently, much less perfectly, it eventually gets it right, Delegate Janis replied, in part:

Washington, D.C., is 100 acres of fantasy land surrounded by reality.  

The Repeal Amendment should be on the House floor early next week. If passed, it will go to the Senate where a version there was defeated earlier this week. The amendment, if approved by three-fourths of the states, would authorize a constitutional convention to adopt the Repeal Amendment into the U.S. Constitution. The Repeal Amendment would, with two-thirds of the states concurring, repeal any federal law or regulation in U.S. Code.

Virginia School Board Association: 'We Philosophically Oppose Educational Choice'!

Today, in a House Appropriation’s sub-committee, one of the most fascinating — and revealing — debates we’ve seen this session occurred concerning school choice. HB 599, patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico), creates a tax credit for individuals or corporations that donate to scholarship foundations that in turn give scholarships to students toward private school tuition. HB 599 has ingeniously been crafted in such a way as to ensure that there will be no fiscal impact to the state — something valuable in today’s economy and something that not many tax credits can boast. In addition, local school systems would actually save money as students leave their schools. The intrigue began when the opposition stood to speak. Dick Pulley, a long-time lobbyist representing the Virginia School Board Association, stood up to oppose the bill. As a lobbyist from an allied organization said, Mr. Pulley flexed his organization’s muscle, but failed to supply a coherent argument as to why he opposed the bill. He was forced to admit that the bill was better because there is no fiscal impact so the usual "this will take school books from children"contrivance wouldn’t fly. Left without that, he revealed his organization’s true colors.

After saying a lot of nothing, he finally came out with, "We philosophically oppose these types of bills." Not one to let an argument like that go by without explanation, Delegate Kirk Cox (R-66, Colonial Heights), a public school teacher, asked Mr. Pulley, "Could you explain what you mean by ‘philosophically oppose'?" Mr. Pulley responded:

We have good public schools. We support public schools. We’re going to have a hard time keeping public schools at the level they’re on now if we pass this bill. We support parents making good educational choices for their children, but we’re opposed to having a public policy device that would allow that to happen.

It is difficult to explain the visceral contempt the public education establishment in Richmond has for parents who choose options other than government-run schools. Organizations like the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia School Board Association and the school principals association make it abundantly clear, year after year, that children of families who choose private education or home schooling are inferior to children who attend public schools.

After lengthy debate, HB 599 was recommended for reporting to the full Appropriations Committee on a vote of 5-3. Those voting for the bill include Delegates Cox, Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), Charles Poindexter (R-9, Glade Hill), Watkins Abbitt (I-59, Appomattox), and Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth). Those voting against the bill include Delegates Bob Tata (R-85, Virginia Beach), Jim Scott (D-53, Merrifield), and Mayme BaCote (D-95, Newport News). The bill now goes to the full Appropriations Committee (click here to contact members) Friday.

There's Also A House Transparency Bill

Delegates Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) and Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth) are the patrons of a "Google-government" bill in the House, HB 2285. It has not been assigned a committee yet, although we anticipate it will go first to the Appropriations Committee's sub-committee on Technology and Oversight (see committee, here), as it did last year, when it was carried over (effectively killed). Stay tuned.