Majority Leader Dick Saslaw

Abortion Center Safety Passes Senate On Lt. Governor Bolling’s Tie-Breaker Vote!

After a long and passionate Senate floor debate that spanned a few hours over two days, the Virginia Senate voted 20-20 this afternoon to direct the Department of Health to promulgate regulations for abortion centers. After a brief pause for the Senate clerk to announce the vote, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling cast his constitutionally authorized tie-breaking vote in favor of the bill. It now will go to Governor Bob McDonnell for his signature. After more than two decades of hiding behind a veil of political secrecy, abortion centers in Virginia will face greater scrutiny and better health standards. It was the first time ever that such legislation has even reached the Senate floor, despite numerous bills passed by the House. Each year, including earlier this session, the Senate kills the legislation in committee. But all 18 Republicans held together and two brave pro-life Democrats, Senators Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell) and Chuck Colgan (D-29, Manassas), resisted pressure from their caucus' leadership.

While the session has gone according to script this year, with the House passing and the Senate Education and Health Committee killing pro-life legislation, a dramatic turn occurred only a few days ago, in last days of session. SB 924, patroned by Senator Ryan McDougle (R-4, Hanover), which directs the Board of Health to promulgate regulations for certain health care facilities, passed the Senate and went to the House of Delegates. Delegate Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg) offered an amendment to add abortion centers. Liberals challenged its germaneness, but after consulting with his parliamentarian, House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Stafford) ruled it in order and the House passed it overwhelmingly. That change required it to return to the Senate where the GOP caucus began to coalesce around the amendment. The vote was scheduled yesterday, but after a half-hour of debate it was passed by until today. Senate Democrat leaders pressured its two wayward colleagues, but at the outset of the tenor of today's 90-minute debate it was apparent there were no cracks in the coalition.

Unfortunately, opponents devoid of logic but full of less-than-genuine arguments, demagogued the issue. At one point Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Fairfax) mocked Senator Mark Obenshain's (R-26, Harrisonburg) recitation of federal court decisions upholding abortion center regulations, even though he was replying to her colleagues' calls for proof of legal precedent. It prompted this exchange. Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) told his colleagues to "get a life!" if they thought the bill was about women's safety, ignoring his own colleagues' faux concerns for the constitution.

Senator John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke) repeatedly claimed the bill was unconstitutional with wild assertions and vague stretches of case law, all of which were refuted by Senator Obenshain, who cited federal appeals and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. One was Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which Senator Edwards said ruled such regulations illegal. Senator Obenshain replied that "standing up and saying so doesn’t make it so," and read from the court’s opinion which plainly disproved Senator Edwards' assertions.

Several liberal senators predicted horrors such as back alley abortions even though states such as South Carolina regulate abortion centers with no such reports and Virginia regulated abortion centers until 1983. They also claimed first-trimester abortions were among the "safest procedures" despite absolutely no corroborating evidence because there are no reporting requirements mandated in Virginia. Senator Dave Marsden (D-37, Fairfax) even compared the bill to the poll tax and efforts to keep minorities from voting in the Jim Crow era.

Another desperate aspect of the debate was the demand by several liberal Democrats that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issue an opinion, perhaps the first time they've wanted his advice. Of course, it was a tactic to delay and kill the bill. Senator Edwards sarcastically said the attorney general would love to defend the bill if it became law because of the other legal actions he’s pursued. But the fact was, and they knew it, he issued an opinion in August in support of the constitutionality of such regulations. He even accommodated senators with a letter composed during a Senate recess — which added to the longevity of the debate.

Opponents' arguments, so twisted, inevitably contradicted each other, with Senator Howell's unwitting admission that abortion is, in fact, used for contraception when she said the bill would take away one method of "determining the size of families."

This was a monumental vote and a historic day. The forces of life, after years of pursuit, finally won an incremental and commonsense victory. Thank you to all who contacted their senators on this important issue! We now look forward to working within the regulatory process to ensure the regulations by the Board of Health ensure abortion centers are safe for women who make the unfortunate choice of abortion.

Twists And Turns Today On Health Care Freedom In Senate Commerce And Labor Today

Today, in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, the anticipated fireworks didn't materialize. But it sure did have some strange twists and turns. Although there wasn't as much hype concerning HB 10, The Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, there was due to be some suspense. The patron, Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), had reason to be confident since three similar Senate bills escaped Commerce and Labor earlier in session, albeit by 8-7 votes, due to the brave votes of Democrats Charles Colgan (D-29, Manassas) and Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell). But HB 10 is worded slightly different. One difference from the Senate bills is that it clearly limits exemptions on insurance purchase mandates in divorce settlements, an omission Senate liberals objected to in SB 417, SB 311 and SB 283. On the other hand, its protections from the federal government are a little more expansive.

Stage set, here's what happened: Delegate Marshall barely was into the introduction of the bill when he got a few questions, including one from committee chairman and Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), who asked, "Do you think we have the power to tell Congress what to do?"

Of course, the bill won't tell Congress what to do. Only that Virginia won't participate in a certain action (health care insurance mandates) that it may pass. In fact, Delegate Marshall cited a 1994 Congressional Budget Office memo during the HillaryCare debate, that stated never before had Congress mandate Americans to buy any good or service, and that doing so would open the door for other mandated purchases and a command economy. (Hopefully, our public schools still teach what political system uses a command economy.) He reasoned, that if Congress has never required an individual mandate before, it must not be legal, or it would have done so already in more than 200 years. He also cited New York v. United States where a federal court ruled in New York's favor over a federal mandate. Seemingly anxious to just get it over with, it was about here where Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath) asked if there was any difference between HB 10 and the Senate bills, which Delegate Marshall already had volunteered that there was. He amended his bill to preserve divorce settlements in which insurance coverage may be a part, something on which committee liberals hammered the Senate bills' patrons. On the other hand, his bill, in a macro constitutional sense (I love creating new phrases) was a bit broader and probably more protective of the feds than the Senate bills.

Before the committee's legal counsel and Delegate Marshall could complete their responses, motions and comments started flying all over the place. Senator Saslaw, confident that the differences were huge and that the bills were not the same, motioned that HB 10 be passed by for the year. Senator Frank Wagner (R-7, Virginia Beach) made a substitute motion to report. Senator Steve Newman (R-23, Forest) made a parliamentary inquiry if the bill could be conformed into one of the Senate bills. He was told no because the bills are in different sections of the code.

That struck me as odd right away because bills are conformed all the time. In fact, "conforming" is changing legislative language to the exact same language as another bill — in other words, that's the point! Change it and put it in any code section you want! So the motion to report was voted upon with Senators Puckett and Colgan upholding their part, but the bill failed 8-7. How could this be when the others passed? Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) voted no.

As supporters gathered outside to plan a next step — primarily, to get Senator Norment to offer a motion to reconsider at the next meeting — word came out of the committee room to head back in: That's what indeed he was doing! So the bill was brought right back up, interrupting the introduction of the next bill. After the motion to reconsider passed, a motion to — believe it or not — conform it to SB 417 was made and passed on a 8-7 vote. So, HB 10 survives, amended to the same language as SB 417. You like unintended consequences (something liberals are always warning us about)? Good, because now the protections for divorce orders is gone!

It should now pass the Senate floor, where it will go back to the House. It remains to be seen if Delegate Marshall will then insist on his original language when it returns there and force a conference committee, or if he'll take what he has. Does he want pride of authorship? Or, knowing the other bill will become law, does he want to roll the dice and try to get the additional protections in HB 10 to become the law of the Commonwealth?

Regional Transportation Authorities: They're Still Alive!

Every year, a bill sneaks up on us and everybody else, that really takes the General Assembly by surprise. This year, perhaps more than others: There have been bills trying to expand the definition of blight (that we slowed down and got amended) and one still alive that would dismantle welfare reform (HB 1714). But one idea no one would have imagined would surface, espeially after the HB 3202 fiasco, was the idea of regional transportation authorities. There was talk of it in the greater Richmond area, but when suburban kingpin Henrico Country said it wasn't interested in joining, no one gave it a second thought. Nobody but Senator John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian), that is. 

(The admin's note: Contrary to what you may think after three successive posts mentioning his name, this is not pick on Senator Watkins Day. Pure coincidence that he has been at least partially involved in the previous two posts.)

Senator Watkins, it seems, still wants the City of Richmond and Chesterfield County to get together without Henrico, with the possibility the latter and other jurisdictions can join the party later. It's all in SB 1534, which passed the Senate yesterday 21-19. The two sides were as odd a mix as you'll ever see, with liberals such as Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) voting against (probably in the vein of, "If Northern Virginia can't get that extra taxing power, no one is.")

This new authority would, according to the senator's own newsletter, include:

". . . the authorization of a regional congestion relief fee, which is, in essence, a grantor's tax that can be authorized by the respective Board of Supervisors or City Council. The primary reason for this is to give the authority, if formed, a mechanism to pay for its initial development and planning."

That is to say, more taxes, especially on an industry (real estate that is in depression and making refinancing and new mortgages more expensive) and more bureaucracy, regulation and half-baked and costly transportation projects. So, keep your eyes open. If this can sneak up on Richmond-area citizens, it can sneak up on every region. As we all know, bad ideas in the General Assembly never go away. They just get repackaged into worse ones.

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.