Senate Privileges and Elections Committee

Important Proposed Constitutional Amendment To Limit Taxes And Size Of Government In Senate Committee Tomorrow!

Tomorrow at 4:00 p.m., the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee will consider a proposed constitutional amendment to limit government growth and taxation. HJ 594 is a taxpayer bill of rights that limits the amount of money the state government can spend in a year to the preceding year's total, plus no more than a percentage increase based on the rate of inflation and population growth. Patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-68, Richmond), the resolution cleared the House earlier this session, and is a vital measure to limit the size of government. Although the Virginia Constitution requires a balanced budget, it does not prescribe certain methods that the General Assembly may use to achieve it. Politicians in years past, as well as this year, have pushed hard for big tax increases to cover their even bigger spending ideas. The annual transportation debate is a perfect example. A constitutional cap on how much of our money they can spend will force them, finally, to prioritize their spending decisions each year instead of going to the well of Virginia families' hard-earned money.

When general fund revenue rises 19 percent, as it did in January, and we are running annual surpluses, there should not be a need to raise taxes for core functions of government. Governments rarely have revenue problems. They have spending problems. If they can’t draw the line on what's too much, we taxpayers, their bosses, will do it for them.

Please contact your senator on the Privileges and Elections Committee and urge him or her to vote yes on this important constitutional reform to limit the size and scope of state government.

Update: Senate Passes Property Rights Constitutional Amendment!

A couple of hours ago, the Virginia Senate passed by a 35-5 vote, a proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would protect private property rights and curb the government's power of eminent domain. Don't be deceived by the vote. Often, at the General Assembly, legislation with the largest vote margins were the most difficult to pass, with twists and turns, near-deaths, deaths and resurrections. All could be said of this resolution. While it does not have the iron clad language on just compensation as it did coming out of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, ironically, it still goes beyond the House version and does guarantee just compensation for "lost profits" and "lost access" — but it leaves it to the General Assembly to legislate those definitions (which means more work to be done next session!).

Now the resolution goes back to the House of Delegates since it was changed from its version. Acceptance of the Senate's amendments is almost a certainty, with House members openly eager and excited about the opportunity to vote on something given little chance in the hostile Senate when session started, and stronger than when it left the House! (No need to risk going to a conference committee, especially after the Senate has killed attempts for years, including earlier this year.) Just goes to show . . . anything can happen at the General Assembly and nothing should surprise anyone.

Opponents will say they got what they wanted out of it but the truth is they wanted none of this. They lost. Liberty and limited government won today! Never underestimate the influence of an election year. This played out similarly to the eminent domain reform statute the last time the Senate was up for election, in 2007.

Next steps: The resolution must be passed again by the new General Assembly next session — with no changes. That done, it will go to Virginians to ratify at the polls in November 2012.

More to come later. However, we cannot go any further without a bit of thanks — a bit, only, because it is impossible to adequately thank him — to the resolution's patron, Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth). Without his determination, legislative skills and persuasive public oratory (we will have video later), we would very likely have to wait another three years (for a total of nine) without the possibility of property rights protection since the infamous and deplorable Supreme Court Kelo decision.

Major Tax And Spending Reform Once Dead, Now Alive And We Need Your Help!

Last Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee appeared to send a major reform to oblivion without having to go on record: Although it had jurisdiction of HJ 615, a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent tax increases from appearing in the budget bill, it decided instead to refer it to the Finance Committee. Such referrals this late in session normally are a quiet way of killing a bill without having to vote to do so. Furthermore, it was done without the notification of the resolution's patron, also a normal telltale sign of no good. However, today, the Finance Committee announced it would, in fact, hear the resolution Monday afternoon! There is no time to lose. Please contact members of the Finance Committee to vote for this resolution that will bring much needed reform to Virginia's budgeting process, slow down tax and fee increases, and bring some transparency to the way our lawmakers raise and spend our hard earned tax dollars. We need you to contact members of the committee, urgently, and encourage a vote for HJ 615!

HJ 615, patroned by Delegates Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico) and Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), will safeguard your tax dollars by banning tax and fee increases, as well as banning the termination of tax credits, in the budget bill. The budget bill is supposed to be a spending bill only. But in recent years, governors and legislators of both parties have stuck tax and fee increases in it (such as when Mark Warner pushed through his infamous tax increase). The budget bill, which contains more than $70 billion, is given to lawmakers on the last day of session and they only have a few hours to digest it. It is nearly impossible to identify tax increases of any type.

HJ 615 would subject the budget to the Single Object Rule, which prohibits non-germane amendments to bills, a rule all other legislation must live by in the General Assembly (unlike Congress where members attach pet projects to must-pass bills, such as funding military personnel). Unfortunately, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the budget bill, which takes precedence over all other laws once enacted, is not subject to the SRO.

This resolution passed the House 80-15. It even passed a Senate P&E sub-committee 5-1 before the full committee sent it to Finance. So there is widespread support for it, but that doesn't always translate into victory when a few people hold the fate of legislation in their hands. Let's not let this second chance go to waste.

If the General Assembly needs more revenue to fund its projects and programs, it should have the courage to propose and vote on ending tax credits and increasing taxes and fees separately, up or down, on the record. Increases in our tax burden should not buried in a must-pass budget with deadline pressure to approve so that state government can continue to function. But with transparent, separate tax increase bills and up-and-down on-the-record votes, we doubt lawmakers will be in any hurry to raise our taxes. So, this not only is a reform of the budget process that adds transparency, it's a step toward reducing the size of government.

Click here for links to contact information for Senate Finance Committee members.

Breaking News: HJ 693, Property Rights Passes Committee 8-7! Close Vote Expected On Floor!

Today was one for the ages. A long shot priority piece of legislation, HJ 693, a property rights constitutional amendment patroned by Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth), passed in sub-committee and full committee! Within the last few hours, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted 8-7 to report the resolution to the full Senate. Joining all six committee Republicans were Democrats Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell) and Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath). Now that it is on the Senate floor, we urgently need you to contact your senator and ask him or her to vote for HJ 693 to ensure the fundamental fairness of property rights and just compensation when your property is taken for a legitimate public use. Property rights are fundamental to our liberty, and to ensuring our family life, our jobs and businesses, and even our places of worship. Strong property protections limit government growth and intrusiveness. Now we are closer than ever — the first time in six years since the U.S. Supreme Court's deplorable Kelo decision — to getting these rights enshrined in the Virginia Constitution.

It is very close, but very winnable, so we cannot let this opportunity to get meaningful protections fail. For the longest time the Virginia Senate has been a roadblock, but tonight we are on the doorstep!

Today, in both committees, about a dozen special interests lined up: Utilities and big corporations, and local governments and housing authorities (who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights) lobbied relentlessly for the right to take your property for reasons other than true public uses. But a committee majority bravely listened to the people and now we have a real chance to see this resolution passed by the General Assembly and on the ballot for Virginians to vote on.

But we need you to act NOW!

The full Senate may vote on this as early as tomorrow and most likely Thursday. Now that we've come this far in the Senate, don't let the special interests win by your inaction! Please take a short moment to contact your senator and ask him or her to vote for HJ 693!

Your voice matters! Please act now on this Family Foundation priority legislation!

Six years is long enough! Urge your senator to vote for HJ 693 on the Senate floor so that we can finally have the constitutional protections for our private property rights that other states have!

Click here for your senator's e-mail address.

Click here for your senator's General Assembly phone number.

Breaking News: Senate Sub-Committee Sends Property Rights Amendment To Full P&E! Committee Votes This Afternoon; Contact Committee Members!

In a shockingly good news event earlier today, a Virginia Senate sub-committee finally did the will of the people and voted to report HJ 693, a constitutional amendment to protect your property rights! It passed 4-3, with Democrat Senator Creigh Deeds joining Republicans Steve Martin, Jeff McWaters and Ralph Smith. Now, after six years of thwarting this popular issue and fundamental right, there is a real chance to see this resolution passed by the General Assembly and on the ballot for Virginians to vote on.

But we need you to act NOW!

The full Senate Privileges and Elections Committee meets at 4:00 p.m. TODAY! That committee will decide whether the resolution goes to the Senate floor, where it will have an excellent chance to pass.

Please take a very short moment to contact senators on the committee and urge them to vote for HJ 693, to ensure your property rights and just compensation when your property is taken for a legitimate public use.

Click here to see committee members and access their contact information.

Today, in sub-committee, we beat back the special interests, the big corporations and utilities, and local governments and housing authorities (who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights). As of right now, they are plotting to kill this fundamental right this afternoon in the full committee.

But your voice matters! Please act now on this Family Foundation priority legislation!

Six years is long enough! Urge these senators to vote for HJ 693 this afternoon in the Privileges and Elections Committee so that we can finally have the constitutional protections for our private property rights that other states have!

Major Tax And Spending Reform On Verge Of Passing?

This Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee will consider an important constitutional amendment that will bring much needed reform to Virginia's budgeting process, slow down tax and fee increases, and bring some transparency to the way our lawmakers raise and spend our hard earned tax dollars.

Contact members of the committee, urgently, and encourage a vote for HJ 615!

HJ 615, patroned by Delegates Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico) and Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), will safeguard our tax dollars by banning tax and fee increases, as well as banning the termination of tax credits, in the budget bill. The budget bill is supposed to be a spending bill only. But in recent years, governors and legislators of both parties have stuck tax and fee increases in it (such as when Mark Warner pushed through his infamous tax increase). The budget bill, which contains more than $70 billion, is given to lawmakers on the last day of session and they only have a few hours to digest it. It is nearly impossible to pick out tax increases of any type.

This resolution passed the House 80-15. If it passes the Senate this year and both chambers again next year, Virginia voters will vote on it in November 2012. But we must start with a positive committee vote Tuesday so it can get to the Senate floor.

If the General Assembly needs more revenue to fund its projects and programs, it should have the courage to propose and vote on ending tax credits and increasing taxes and fees separately, up or down, on the record. Increases in our tax burden should not buried in a must-pass budget with deadline pressure to approve so that state government can continue to function. But with transparent, separate tax increase bills and up-and-down on-the-record votes, we doubt lawmakers will be in any hurry to raise our taxes. So, this not only is a reform of the budget process that adds transparency, it’s a step toward reducing the size of government.

This resolution received a positive vote in sub-committee this week (5-1 with one abstention), but some of the senators who voted for it and the abstention expressed reservations and said they may still change their vote in full committee. Your voice is crucial to ensuring this much needed open government resolution passes so that we voters eventually get a chance to pass our own judgment on it.

Your Constitutional Protections At Stake Tomorrow

The pace of the General Assembly moves very fast, especially during the short session when committee hearings are compressed into a shorter period. Just this morning we were notified that four important proposed constitutional amendments, passed last week by the House, already are scheduled for tomorrow morning in a Senate Privileges and Elections sub-committee. Usually, there is at least a day or two respite and time to regroup right before or after "crossover," but the pipeline is full of bills and the legislation continues to flow. We need your urgent help to contact members of the sub-committee and ask them to vote for these important constitutional protections. Only four votes stand in the way killing these highly popular and needed measures without the full debate of the Senate, much less the full committee. So, your action is needed now.

HJ 615, patroned by Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico) and Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), would safeguard your tax dollars by banning tax and fee increases in the budget bill. The budget bill is supposed to be a spending bill only. But in recent years, governors and legislators have stuck tax and fee increases in it (such as when Mark Warner pushed through his infamous tax increase). If those revenues are needed, delegates and senators should have the courage to vote on tax increases separately, up or down, not buried in a must-pass budget with deadline pressure to approve so that state government can continue to function.

HJ 539, patroned by Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Spotsylvania), is another important safeguard to your hard-earned tax dollars. It would require a three-fifths super majority vote of the General Assembly to raise state taxes and the same super majority for your city, town or county governing body to raise local taxes.

HJ 593, patroned by Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax), would protect Virginians' right of religious expression by allowing prayer and the recognition of religious beliefs, heritage and traditions on public property, including public schools. This will safeguard from court action, for example, students who offer prayers at school assemblies.

HJ 614, patroned by Delegate Tag Greason (R-32, Potomac Falls) would allow the General Assembly to provide for loans and grants to, or on behalf of, candidates for the military chaplaincy who attend in-state nonprofit institutions of higher education whose primary purpose is to provide religious training or theological education.

Urgent action is needed since the sub-committee meets tomorrow! If these resolutions die in sub-committee, the opportunity to incorporate them into the Virginia Constitution will be set back three more years. Contact the members and ask they vote for HJ 615, HJ 539, HJ 593 and HJ 614 tomorrow morning in Senate Privileges and Elections sub-committee.

Quotes Of The Day

That's not a typo. We have multiple Quotes of the Day today. One, this morning, occurred in the House Education Sub-committee on Standards of Quality. It was considering a bill from Delegate John O'Bannon (R-73, Henrico) on childhood obesity that would require additional physical education for students K-8. Pat Lacey, the ever present spokesman for the umbrella Educrat coalition, which can't seem to approve of anything except more taxpayer money for any and all problems, and which makes nothing but excuses and obstacles for why education reforms can't happen, extended the never say yes philosophy even to phys ed reform! When he addressed the committee to say some elementary schools may not have the gyms to accommodate inclement weather, sub-committee chairman Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge) said:

At VMI we didn't have that problem!

Later in the morning, in the Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-committee on Constitutional Amendments, a government lobbyist for Fairfax County, which used the hard-earned tax' money of its own citizens to lobby against them, testified against Senator Mark Obenshain's (R-26, Harrisonburg) proposed constitutional amendment to protect private property rights. She gave an example regarding the difficulty the amendment would create in taking land for certain municipal projects, which led to this exchange between her and Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath), the sub-committee's chairman, who was preparing to lead a party line vote to defeat property rights protection:

Senator Deeds: But that's the part of the bill I like!

Fairfax lobbyist: Okay . . . I'll sit down now. 

Also from that committee: VACO and VML lobbyist Randy Cook — VACO and VML are the lobbying arms of Virginia's counties and cities, respectively, which pay people like him with your hard earned tax money to lobby against your rights — said that a constitutional amendment isn't necessary because they haven't challenged the condemnation powers of the 2007  property rights statute . . . yet. To which Senator Obenshain later replied:

VACO said, 'Stop me before I condemn (property) again.'

Three Quotes of the Day. All humorous. All pointing, however, to something much more serious.

Repeal Amendment Defeated, Property Rights On Hold In Senate P&E

This morning, the Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Constitutional Amendments voted 4-3, on a party line vote, against SJ 280, the Repeal Amendment. The proposed resolution would, if enacted through a constitutional convention called for by state legislatures, allow a super majority of states to repeal federal laws and regulations. Those voting against the resolution by Senator Ryan McDougle (R-4, Hanover) were Senators Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath), Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31, Arlington), Donald McEachin (D-9, Henrico) and Ralph Northam (D-6, Norfolk). Voting in favor were Senators Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield), Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) and Jeff McWaters (R-8, Virginia Beach).   Oddly, much of the debate by witnesses was between conservative groups. While many limited government advocates want to re-balance the federal structure between the states and the central government in Washington, D.C., others are concerned the constitutional convention the resolution calls for would open up a loophole to amend other areas of the constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. However, there is a House version of the resolution, HJ 542, patroned by Delegate James LeMunyon (R-67, Chantilly) and backed by House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Fredericksburg), that should make it through the House, setting up a second round in the Senate.

Another important proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution, SJR 307, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain, (R-26, Harrisonburg), which would protect citizens' property from the dangers of eminent domain by state and local governments and public service companies, was carried over to next week. That gives property rights and limited government grassroots activists more time to contact members of this committee.

Repeal Amendment In Senate Sub-Committee Tomorrow Morning!

Tomorrow morning, in the same meeting Senate P&E sub-committee meeting that will vote on the property rights resolution, senators will consider SJR 280, the Repeal Amendment. As we wrote here in one of our General Assembly previews, this would help restore the checks and balances once enjoyed between the federal government and the states by giving the states power to repeal any federal law if two-thirds of the states vote to do so. The resolution is patroned by Senator Ryan McDougle (R-4, Hanover). It will be heard in the Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Constitutional Amendments (click here), and we encourage you to contact members of that committee to vote in favor of the resolution.

Big Property Rights Vote Tuesday Morning In Senate Sub-Committee!

After a slow first few days of ceremony and housekeeping, the 2011 General Assembly session moves into a very high gear with several crucial issues before sub-committees. We need you to act immediately on an issue that is the foundation of all of our liberties: Property Rights. Tomorrow at 9:15 a.m., the Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Constitutional Amendments will consider SJR 307, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg). This proposed amendment will enshrine in the state constitution the landmark property protection legislation passed in 2007, but which has come under assault in each successive General Assembly.

Without property rights, we don't have secure homes. Without property rights, we don't have the security to practice our faith. Without property rights, we have no economic security. The fact is, ever since the deplorable Kelo decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, local and state governments have had eyes bigger than their stomachs for homes, farms and small businesses to feed their economic development schemes. They've taken private property and turned it over to developers and corporations for malls and office parks, or for transportation boondoggles. In one heinous case in Hampton, the city took private property for a pittance, and then sold it to a developer for millions while the original owner saw none of the extra money.

At one time, Virginia was a leader in protecting property rights and our Founders, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, ensured these rights in the Commonwealth’s constitution. However, in the last constitutional revision in the early 1970s, they were diminished. But now, with a reawakening of Founding Principles across Virginia and the nation, there is real momentum this year for true reform. We also think we are close in the sub-committee — so your voice matters! Please contact sub-sommittee members and express your desire that they vote for S.J.R. 307 to protect Virginia families' homes, farms and businesses!

Three Proposed Constitutional Protections From Government In Senate Committee Tomorrow Afternoon!

Thursday, we let you know about three important proposed constitutional amendments that passed the House and now are on the way to the Senate. You never know about the pace of the General Assembly, especially right after crossover, so guess what? All three of those CAs incredibly important reforms are on the docket tomorrow, at 4:00 p.m. in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.  Please contact members of the committee and voice your support for these constitutional amendments (see committee here), as soon as possible, up to early afternoon tomorrow. Remember, if these proposed amendments fail, it may be another two years before we can even get the process going again.

All three of these proposed amendments to Virginia's Constitution have something in common: Protection. Protection from eminent domain, the government taking your or a friend's private property, whether commercial or residential; protection from profligate government spending — a taxpayers' bill of rights, so to speak (necessary when Virginia's budget has grown 80 percent during the last 10 years); and protection from mismanagement of our dedicated transportation funds.

Here's a summary of the three:

HJ 725, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albermarle) would provide protection from the government's power of eminent domain, and protect the 2007 law protecting private property rights from tampering by future General Assemblies. That law was a reaction to the deplorable U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision, which allowed a local government to take private property and give it to developers. Just as the Marriage Amendment was needed to protect Virginia's marriage statutes, the 2007 private property law needs constitutional protection. This session alone has seen two bills (HB 1671 and SB 1094) that would have weakened it (we were able to amend them into acceptable bills). So it is obvious this constitutional protection is needed.  

HJ 789, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-68, Richmond) would limit spending to the preceding year's total appropriations plus an amount equal to the percentage increase of inflation plus population growth. It makes exceptions to provide tax relief, deposits to the "Rainy Day Fund" and nonrecurring capital projects. With state spending increasing more than 80 percent over the last 10 years, we need this constitutional protection from the big spenders in Richmond. What family budget has grown that much that fast?   

HJ 620, patroned by Delegate Glen Oder (R-94, Newport News), is another protection against greedy government big spenders. It would put all tax revenues designated by law for transportation in a "lock box" so that they cannot be spent on earmarks, pork or for other areas of the budget, only for the big spenders to claim they need more money for transportation. When campaigning for governor, Governor Tim Kaine said he wouldn't raise taxes until the "Transportation Lock Box" was in place. Of course, he rescinded that promise only a few hour after being sworn in.       

So, please contact the committee members as soon as possible and ask them to vote for these constitutional amendments tomorrow in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

Three Constitutional Amendments To Go On Trial In The Senate

The pace remained settled in Capitol Square today as committees in the two chambers prepare for the grind of hearings next week on bills passed in each other's chamber. We've reported on a number of successes over the first half of session, both in good bills that passed and bad bills killed. Also in the mix are three proposed constitutional amendments we support, all of which passed the House earlier this week and now begin their trials in the Senate. To amend the constitution of Virginia, a proposed amendment must pass the General Assembly in exactly the same form — a comma can't even be changed — in two sessions with an intervening statewide election, and then approved by the voters in a statewide ballot. So it's nearly a three-year process. It's not the easiest thing to do, as we know from the Marriage Amendment.

HJ 725, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albermarle) would provide protection from the government's power of eminent domain, and protect the 2007 law protecting private property rights from tampering by future General Assemblies. That law was a reaction to the deplorable U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision, which allowed a local government to take private property and give it to developers. Just as the Marriage Amendment was needed to protect Virginia's marriage statutes, the 2007 law needs constitutional protection. This session alone has seen two bills that would have weakened it (we were able to amend them into acceptable bills). So it is obvious this constitutional protection is needed.

HJ 789, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-68, Richmond) would limit spending to the preceding year's total appropriations plus an amount equal to the percentage increase of inflation plus population growth. It makes exceptions to provide tax relief, deposits to the "Rainy Day Fund" and nonrecurring capital projects. With state spending increasing more than 80 percent over the last 10 years, we need this constitutional protection from the big spenders in Richmond. What family budget has grown that much that fast? 

HJ 620, patroned by Delegate Glen Oder (R-94, Newport News), is another protection against greedy government big spenders. It would put all tax revenues designated by law for transportation in a "lock box" so that they cannot be spent on earmarks, pork or for other areas of the budget, only for the big spenders to claim they need more money for transportation. This way, we know that our hard-earned tax money is going to where lawmakers say it is going. Then, and only then, if they need more money for transportation, can they in good conscience ask us for a tax increase.   

All three of these commonsense and much needed reforms and protections will be heard in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee (get members' contact info here), perhaps as early as next week. Please contact the committee members to urge them to report these resolutions to the Senate floor.