Senate General Laws Committee

Full Senate To Vote On Sexual Orientation Bills

Today, the Senate General Laws Committee considered two bills that are high priorities of the homosexual lobby in Virginia. One, SB 747, would add sexual orientation to the state's hiring policy of non-discrimination. In an 8-7, straight party line vote, the committee reported the bill to the full Senate. Testimony in favor of the bill varied from the usual members of Equality Virginia and homosexual state employees, to the Virginia Education Association (is this about educating "the children"?), a member of the AFL-CIO board and a Universalist Unitarian minister who stated that she represented, "I hope, all reasonable religions."  

Please click here to contact your Senator and urge him or her to vote no on SB 747! 

According to the Washington Post on October 30, 2009:

. . . state government, in which a 110,000-strong workforce undoubtedly includes thousands of homosexuals. ...

If testimony were to be taken at face value, one would believe that our state government operates under a "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, where each of those thousands of employees would be fired when their orientation is discovered. However, no such policy exists and the facts confirm this. 

According to the Department of Human Resource Management, which tracks allegations of discrimination, from 1992 forward there have been 24 registered complaints based on sexual orientation. Among these 24 complaints in an 18-year period, not all complaints can be assumed to be founded. From July 1, 2009-March 9, 2010 three complaints of sexual orientation discrimination were filed, but as the March date, none were deemed "founded." Should this bill be successful, it would be the first time in Virginia history that sexual orientation would be elevated to a protected class in the law.    Thankfully, the committee did have the sense to defeat an even more comprehensive bill on sexual orientation non-discrimination. The bill, SB 797, would have added sexual orientation to Virginia's Human Rights Act, and in doing so, would potentially force faith-based organizations, religious daycare centers and schools to hire homosexuals against their conscience. While proponents claimed this would simply be a policy statement by the Commonwealth, everyone knows policy statements turn into judicial decisions, administrative regulations, and lead to future more detailed laws. The bill failed on a 7-7 vote, with Senator Chuck Colgan (D-29, Manassas) not voting.

Senate To Vote on Sexual Orientation Bill Tomorrow!

Last week the Senate General Laws committee passed (see vote) legislation, SB 66, that will add sexual orientation to the state’s hiring policy of non-discrimination. If this bill is successful, it would be the first time in Virginia history that sexual orientation would be elevated to a protected class. The full Senate will vote (see contact list) on this legislation tomorrow! We urge you to ask your senator to vote against this unnecessary legislation.

While no one endorses discrimination of any type, there is absolutely no need for this proposal. In fact, according to the Washington Post, there are "thousands of homosexuals" working in state government. Both previous governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, signed executive orders against discrimination, and Governor Bob McDonnell has said publicly that his administration will not discriminate against homosexuals (see Washington Post). No evidence of discrimination was presented in committee when the bill was debated.

This is a solution in search of a problem. In addition, this legislation will open the Commonwealth of Virginia to costly litigation by people who fail to qualify for employment but sue the state based on this proposal. It also is a first step toward adding sexual orientation to private business hiring practice. We have seen in other states this gradual progression.

The bill also is impractical. To protect themselves against litigation, state agencies would have to begin asking job applicants about their sexuality, a clear invasion of privacy. State employment applications would have to be changed to include boxes to check for one’s sexual orientation, "actual or perceived," gender identity or expression.

Elevating sexual orientation to a protected class, despite the fact that homosexuality is not immutable, would create an entirely new level of protection — protection based on one’s sexual behavior. So, please contact your senator now and urge him or her to vote no on SB 66 — unnecessary legislation that elevates sexual orientation to protected status in Virginia law.

State Government Spending Transparency Updates

Last night I posted about action on taken on HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), which would make state government spending transparent in an easy-to-use, online searchable database of state spending.  Here's an update:  The House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities (see committee member here) today did not hear HB 2285. One little problem . . . today was the last meeting of the sub-committee before crossover. However, the sub-committee has scheduled extra meetings in the past. It is urgent that this sub-committee hear from you as soon as possible. Tell them that not only do you support the bill, but you expect it to be heard in sub-committee. 

If you want a quick  reference to their phone numbers, click here.

Meanwhile, tomorrow the Senate General Laws Committee (for members click here) meets and will take up SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax). Expect the argument against spending transparency to be a bogus cost estimate by the Department of Planning and Budget.

Many states, including Missouri and Nebraska, have put their spending online for almost no new money — and doing so has more than paid for itself in the finding of duplications and other wasted spending. Our friends at the National Taxpayers Union have secured two letters to the various committee members that we have circulated: One from the Treasurer of Nebraska and one, just last night, from former Missouri Governor Matt Blount's chief of staff, detailing how Virginia's $3 million cost estimate is completely unfounded and unrealistic.   

It is urgent that everyone concerned about good and open government contact members of the Senate General Laws Committee and urge them to pass SB 936 Wednesday, as well as contact the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities — for good government and transparency in how our tax money is spent!

UPDATE: SB 936 Not In General Laws This Week

The Senate General Laws Committee (click here for committee members) finally released its docket for the week and unexpectedly, SB 936, the budget transparency bill, is not scheduled. Still not published is an economic impact statement, which the Department of Planning and Budget releases to make it seem that reform legislation is too expensive to pass into law. Thus, perhaps the delay in scheduling the bill for its hearing. Stay tuned. It may also go to sub-committee in the interim. In the meantime, let the senators on the committee know you want easy access to how your money gets spent. To see which senators to contact, click the link on the committee above.

Budget Transparency Bill May Come Up Soon!

The General Assembly is barely under way, yet already there is urgency in the air. Most people think this session will be dominated by the budget and the revenue surplus that has been squandered, putting our state finances in a deficit. Complementing the budget debate is a very important issue and one of our very top priorities this session: Budget Transparency and Accountability, which entails putting the state budget online in an easy-to-search format.

How can we control spending when no one knows how much is spent, where it is spent and on what it is spent? Lawmakers from both chambers readily admit that unless they are on the powerful money committees, they don't know where our money goes because after it is appropriated, it gets funneled around and through departments and agencies in forms of grants and contracts that make it virtually impossible to track. In fact, lawmakers themselves have to file several Freedom of Information Act requests just to discover the purpose of one  check.

Without an accountable, easy-to-use online tool, how can anyone track the many thousands of tax dollars the commonwealth doles out to nefarious organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, under cryptic "education" grants? How to uncover the millions of wasted tax-dollars on earmarks and political paybacks for non-essential services to special interest groups or district-friendly pork barrel projects?

Not only will an online budget — easily searchable in a Google-like format — help legislators make informed decisions on how to budget billions of your hard-earned tax dollars, it will allow hundreds of thousands of citizen watchdogs to point out the waste in government spending. In short, this is a just concept of open and good government; of sunshine; of the people having oversight of their government, as the Founders intended.

We were informed early this week that the Senate bill creating online budget accountability, SB 936, might come up as early as Wednesday, January 21, in the Senate General Laws Committee. The patrons are Senators Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) and Chap Peterson (D-34, Fairfax), but despite this same bipartisan support last year, the committee defeated it with bipartisan votes. Lawmakers of both parties, and their bureaucrat allies, who are more interested in the accumulation of power via the purse and the secrecy of the budget's intricacies, are determined again this year to arrogantly deny the families and people of Virginia their rights to know what their government does with their hard-earned tax money.

However, this year, with an overspent government desperately trying to "find money to cut" and with the twin backdrops of an election year and federal bailouts to banks and businesses that have refused to account for what they've done with our tax money, the time is ripe for accountability in the commonwealth's finances.

The "Google Government" bill, SB 936, may come before the Senate General Laws Committee as soon as this Wednesday, January 21. Don't let opponents of open government kill this bill quietly, early, when few are paying attention.

It is urgent for you to write members of the Senate General Laws Committee (click here) and to find others to do so as well — all the better if one is your senator — and let them know you want the ability that the citizens of several states already have, to conveniently research how and where your money is spent. Amazingly, President-elect Barack Obama's one major accomplishment in the U.S. Senate, was to partner with Oklahoma's conservative Republican Tom Coburn, to put all federal contracts online.  

If the behemoth that is the federal budget can be put online, so, too, can Virginia's.