Senator Janet Howell

McAuliffe Dealt Setback: Senate Upholds Conscience Protection!

Earlier today, the Democrat-controlled Senate defeated Governor Terry McAuliffe's amendment to SB 330, an amendment that would have seriously weakened conscience protections included in a bill providing for the licensing of genetic counselors. The vote was 23-17 with Democrat Senators Chuck Colgan, Phil Puckett and Chap Petersen joining all 20 Republicans in protecting the right of conscience. The Family Foundation would like to thank Senators Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield), Dick Black (R-13, Leesburg), and Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) who stood and spoke in opposition to the anti-conscience amendment. Special thanks goes to Senator Tom Garrett (R-22, Louisa) who articulated the legal liabilities of the amendment and to Senator Bill Stanley (R-20, Franklin) who questioned the patron of the bill, Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), regarding the genesis of the amendment. Senator Stanley asked Senator Howell if she was comfortable with the initial language of her bill which passed the Senate 38-0. The considerably far-left senator responded that she was "perfectly comfortable" with the conscience clause language the way it was prior to the governor's amendment.

Continuing to prove how out of touch he is with mainstream Virginia, Governor McAuliffe showed today that he is also out of touch with even the most "progressive" leaders of his own party. He bowed to pressure from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and was reminded by the 23-17 vote that his radical agenda will not be approved even in the Senate simply because he has a "D" behind his name.

The passage of SB 330 without the governor's anti-conscience amendments is a great benchmark for conscience rights in Virginia. If genetic counselors can be protected from being forced to violate their conscience, it follows that all other professions should receive equal protection. Today's vote proves that the freedom of conscience is not a right-wing issue or even a Christian issue — it is about freedom of conscience for all.

We are also very appreciative of our colleagues at the Virginia Catholic Conference, which again worked so hard with us over the past several days on this amendment, as well as the representatives of the genetic counselors who were willing to work with us to protect the conscience rights of their clients. Thanks, also, to all of you who contacted your senators to vote no on this significant legislative action. It does make a difference and your voices are heard.

T-Mac Chili eating

Governor McAuliffe will have to chew on this legislative defeat.

Senate Votes Today On Conscience Protection

On Tuesday, bowing to pressure from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, Governor Terry McAuliffe amended SB 330, a genetic counseling bill, to weaken its excellent conscience protection language. Early today, the Senate will take up this amendment on the floor and vote on it.

Contact your senator now and ask him or her to vote NO on the governor's amendment to SB 330.

The story behind this amendment goes back a few months. This past summer, the lobbyists for the genetic counselors approached The Family Foundation with a draft of a bill to license genetic counselors in Virginia. We appreciated them coming to us prior to session to discern our impression of the bill and to see if we had any concerns. We decided to remain neutral on the topic of licensing genetic counselors, but we strongly encouraged the addition of a conscience clause to protect them from being forced to participate in counseling against their deeply held moral or religious beliefs.

The genetic counselors agreed to the conscience language and a bill was drafted that all parties agreed upon. In fact, the language was so universally-accepted, both the identical House and Senate versions passed unanimously in the evenly-divided Senate and with sweeping margins in the House.

Governor McAuliffe signed HB 612, patroned by Delegate Roxann Robinson (R-27, Chesterfield), with the strong conscience protection language and it became law. But before SB 330, patroned by Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), got to Governor McAuliffe's desk, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood woke up from their slumber, decided the conscience clause was unacceptable, and urged the governor to amend the language. Bowing to the pressure of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, he added an amendment to SB 330 which guts the conscience clause. This is particularly frustrating because the bills as drafted have the overwhelming support of both chambers, the genetic counselors didn't ask for the amendment and, not to mention, Governor McAuliffe already signed HB 612! The only holdup is the ACLU and Planned Parenthood who were late to the party.

 Please contact your senator now and urge a vote for conscience and reject the governor's amendment to SB 330).

The Canine Caucus And Hope And Peace

Every year we are graced with several teenage students who put in several hours of volunteer work for us as pages during the General Assembly. Their work is invaluable to us in running errands and making timely deliveries to members of the House and Senate. Last year we had a particularly clever young man who cracked us up repeatedly with his spontaneous observations. Perhaps nothing was funnier than his pronouncement of "The Canine Caucus":

Speaker William Howell

Delegate Algie Howell

Senator Janet Howell

Senator George Barker

Senator Frank Ruff.

Get it? 

This year, an equally bright page by the name of Andrea Corwin noticed the irony of the election of freshmen Delegates David Ramadan and Israel (O'Quinn) and how, despite their philosophical compatibility, if necessary, they can always count on the mediation of their colleagues (Patrick) Hope and (Chris) Peace.

Is It Howell Or Rorschach?

One of the most unsightly of all the sausage making that is the legislative process is redistricting. Every 10 years, all 140 General Assembly districts, as well as Virginia's Congressional districts, must be redrawn to reflect population shifts as accounted for in the census. The districts can get pretty contorted, to say the least, with compactness and communities of interest giving way to snake-like shapes that slither from one end of the state to another (not that Virginia is an exception, either). Complicating matters is that whatever the General Assembly and governor agree to must be approved by the Justice Department because Virginia falls under the Voting Rights Act. But there are several rare dynamics at play this year. For one, it's the first time since Reconstruction that opposite parties control the two chambers during a redistricting year. As each chamber has prerogative over its districts, traditionally they don't interfere with each other's plan. However, with Governor Bob McDonnell as a GOP backstop to Senate Democrat mischief, Senate Dems laid down the law: Instead of two bills this year, anything coming from the House would be attached to the Senate's bill as a way of safeguarding its new districts from the governor's veto or amendments. If not, Senate Dems promised stalemate on the House plan. Interestingly, in this interview (read transcript) on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU-FM in March, Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) was asked what the governor's role was in redistricting and he replied, "sign or amend" the bill. No mention of the veto option.

Here's more from the senator that day (hear audio), starting partisan, then trying to soften:

Well, if I lose a few seats as a result of redistricting, and I'm in the majority, I'm not doing a very good job. ... And I would simply say, well, you know, our goal is to make the Democratic districts, particularly the marginal ones, a little bit better than they are now. I'm not greedy. I'm not trying to put all the Republicans out of business by any stretch. They didn't do that to us 10 years ago. And we're not gonna do that to them.

So much for that. Governor McDonnell vetoed the bill sent to him last week anyway, primarily because of the dysfunctional and obscenely drawn Senate districts that drew fire from groups as varied as Prince William County to the NAACP (see Jenifer Buske at the Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog). While the House plan passed with all but 10 Democrat votes, the Senate plan — which could add up to three Democrat seats per the Richmond Times-Dispatch — was divided on party lines, 22-18. No wonder. None of this was a surprise.

More dynamics: While there is time to settle the Congressional districts because those elections are not until next year, all 140 General Assembly seats are up this year. Already, primaries have been pushed back to August to accommodate the readjusted districts. Candidates filing to run still don't know where they are running. Even if the parties and governor come to an agreement, there's this: This is the first redistricting since the Voting Rights Act with a Democrat president. Who knows what changes his Justice Department might demand. If all of this can't be wrapped up by a time certain, the entire process for both chambers gets transferred to judges.

But today there is hope. After he bragged that he wouldn't change "a dot or a comma," declared with bravado he wouldn't "surrender" and dared the governor to issue a second veto (Ros Helderman at the Post) for fear of sending it to the unelected judiciary, Senator Saslaw backed down. Now, Senators Janet Howell (D-32, Fairfax) and Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester) are leading a bipartisan working group to come up with a new plan (the Post). But is it false hope? Senator Howell echoed Senator Saslaw's original sentiments: "We won’t negotiate away our majority." But then Senator Saslaw told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, "There are some of us who are going to try to . . . get things worked out in an amicable fashion. We're determined to try to make the process work right." The whiplash changes in attitude are enough to require psychological testing. More on that in a second.

Senator Howell needs to understand that she doesn't determine the majority. If she did, there would be no need for elections. Voters determine majorities. One wonders what she and Senator Saslaw fear. Only three years ago, liberals heralded Virginia as blue. The existing Senate districts were good enough to flip a one-time 24-16 GOP majority to 22-18 Democrat. If Senate Democrats are so confident in their ideas and performance the last four years as the majority, what's with the gerrymandering that has split some localities into as many as eight districts?

Grossed out yet by the sausage making? Then you may or may not want to take this little test based on Senator Howell's vetoed plan. The districts' shapes are so contorted one might think they are ink blots on a Rorschach test. Click here to take the Is It Howell Or Rorschach? test. Disclaimer: Score does not correlate to actual state of mental health, but may indicate the insecurity of some Senate Democrats.

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.

BREAKING: Abortion Center Debate Produces Quote Of The Session!

The debate on SB 924, which, as amended, would mandate the Board of Health to regulate abortion centers, has spurred contentious debate on the Senate floor, and the chamber has passed the bill by temporarily. Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw promised the bill and its House amendment would be voted on today. Now, the Senate is in recess for an unrelated reason as we await the vote. During the debate, an exchange between liberal Democrat Janet Howell and pro-life conservative Republican Mark Obenshain, produced this, after the latter answered a request to cite legal precedent regarding the constitutionality of the bill:

Senator Howell: Are you the Attorney General?

Senator Obenshain: You don’t need to be the Attorney General to read the constitution.

Senator Howell: Will you be the person defending the commonwealth in a lawsuit?

Senator Obenshain: No, I will not. Will you be the person suing the commonwealth?

The chamber fell silent while even neutral observers in a viewing room let out a collective whoaaa! Senator Howell pursued no further debate with Senator Obenshain.

Senate Rules Dispute Boils Over Into Rare Discharge Motion On Floor: Full Senate Finally On Record On Protecting Property From Eminent Domain

A bit of history was made — or at least attempted — Tuesday in the Senate. Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), expressing the frustration of an arbitrary exercise of Senate rules by majority Democrats, made a discharge motion — a parliamentary procedure to bring to the floor of a legislative body a bill that has been defeated or bottled up in committee. A discharge motion hasn't been attempted in the Senate in nearly two decades (see Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog). It's considered desperate and an affront, especially in the "collegial" Senate, because it doesn't respect Senate procedure and the "committee process" (i.e., the opinion of your colleagues who have heard the patron, witness testimony and debate, and studied the legislation) — it's done with, so let it be — and slows down floor action. It's rare because those who attempt it often are ostracized by most, if not all, of their colleagues. Its required two-thirds majority vote also is difficult to achieve, so the risk-to-cost ratio isn't appealing.

However, it's on the books for a reason or it wouldn't be a rule — precisely when the committee process has degenerated into a, "the rules are what we say they are," selectively applied, moving target. Senate rules and tradition are that sub-committees take recommendation votes only, and that full committees hear every bill for a final vote. Last year, the Senate, in an unprecedented move, changed its rules after crossover to allow sub-committees (with as little as two votes) to kill House bills so as to save members from going on record on tough votes in full committee. Rule changes in midstream are almost unheard of, but even at that, Senate bills always have been given the courtesy of full committee hearings. Where's the "collegiality" in revoking that process? (While House rules allow for the killing of bills in sub-committee, it is in its rules, and they are applied equally, to all bills, throughout session.)

I got an inkling of the Senate mischief at this session's first meeting of the Privileges and Elections Committee. The chair, Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), announced that no bill with a negative sub-committee vote would be brought to the full committee. Senator Obenshain asked if he heard correctly and, when told "yes," protested to no avail. But the discussion boiled over into a rules battle at a subsequent meeting (see Washington Post) when he tried to bring up bills and resolutions with negative sub-committee votes in full committee (see video below). Which brings us to Tuesday on the floor:

Senator Obenshain attempted to dislodge SJ 307, a proposed constitutional amendment to protect private property from government takings through eminent domain. It was defeated 4-3 in a Privileges and Elections sub-committee on an unrecorded party line vote (notice that omission here). Amazingly, only four unrecorded votes can thwart the will of the people in the Virginia Senate! A small forum in a cramped conference room on the third floor of the GAB is the venue for the debate and discussion on whether the commonwealth will protect one of its citizens' most cherished rights — the protection of private property from the oppressive government power of eminent domain.

But in a surprise move, after consulting with his caucus earlier that morning, Senator Obenshain got his full Senate vote on property rights during a marathon session to finish bills before crossover. He motioned "to suspend the rules" and bring SJ 307  directly to the floor. He was seconded by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). The motion properly before the body failed to get a majority, much less two-thirds, on a strict party line vote, 22-18. If SJ 307 made it to the floor through the committee process, it most likely would pass. Unfortunately, some Democrats adhered to process over propriety. The good news is that the Senate finally, after several years, has a recorded vote on property rights and that the GOP caucus united on this rare motion.

There should be a rule about that: The Senate majority preaches collegiality . . . except when hearing and voting on its members' legislation. 

This Just In: Democrat Controlled Senate Transportation Committee Kills Planned Parenthood License Plate Bill!

Yesterday, the Democrat controlled Senate Finance Committee did something very unusual — they aimed their wrath on a Democrat House colleague, Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), and purposely killed his property rights bill. This afternoon, the Democrat controlled Transportation Committee proved it could kill a fellow Democrat's bill by accident! Here's what happened:

We're all familiar with the Planned Parenthood license plate bill by now (HB 1108). Patroned byDelegate Bob Brink (D-48, Arlington), the bill would allow the abortion provider its own plate with slogan ("Trust Women, Respect Choice"). Money from its sales was designated to go to the coffers of the partisan political organization. However, the House of Delegates accepted a floor amendment by Todd Gilbert (R-15, Shenandoah) to redirect the money instead to the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund. This amended bill was what was before the Transportation Committee.

Now, the Senate finished its floor business today earlier than the House, but instead of waiting for Delegate Brink to attend to introduce his bill, committee chair Yvonne Miller (D-5, Norfolk) decided to hear the bill without him. Not rare, but still unusual. In addition, two senators, Edd Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania) and Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) were absent taking committee membership down to 13. A motion was made to amend the bill to redirect sale proceeds back to Planned Parenthood. The vote was close, 7-6, in favor of the amendment. Senator Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell), a pro-life Democrat (speaking of same), voted with all but one of the Republicans against the amendment. Senator John Watkins (R-10, Powhatan) voted with the Dems to give them what they wanted. False sense of security. Thinking they had the votes, Chairman Miller proceeded with a vote on the amended bill — but it went down, 7-6! Now, not only is there no funding, there's no plate! The entire bill is . . . dead!

What happened? Simple. Voting for amendments rarely is a big deal. Many senators do it to give the patron the legislation he or she wants so the committee can cast an up or down vote on what it is he or she is trying to accomplish. That's all the Senator Watkins did. On the vote on final passage, he voted "no" with all the Republicans and Senator Puckett, whose decision was probably hardened by the possibility of Planned Parenthood getting license plate money.

I can hear the "Ooooooooops" coming from Senator Miller now. Better still, the hissy fit coming from Planned Parenthood! Great news — and fun — all the way around. Gotta love those unintended consequences. Still, there's another Planned Parenthood plate bill alive, as part of an omnibus special license plate package, including one to benefit a low income children meals program. That PP plate bill funding has been stripped, too. However, its patron, Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), has threatened to block the whole ball of wax if the PP funding isn't restored. But liberals never take food from the children, do they? The pro-abort crack-up gets wackier every day!

Quick hypothetical: If the two absent senators were there, the outcome wouldn't have changed. Even if Senator Houck voted for the plate, Senator Blevins has been consistently against all specialized license plates. He either would've voted no or abstained. A tie would have killed the bill.

More Education Reform Snuffed Out In Senate

Earlier in the week we vividly showed how the obstinate the  education reform is to education reform, freedom and choice (see here). Also last week, in a much less publicized action, the Senate killed a modest bill, HB 76 — watered down from its original incarnation thanks to the educrat establishment, which amends, amends then kills then stomps the remains to death — patroned by Delegate Dickie Bell (R-20, Staunton), a public school teacher. The vote in the Senate Education and Health Committee was 14-1, but its fate was sealed last week when an Ed and Health sub-committee voted 4-1 not to recommend it. The bill, had it become law, would begin the process of moving Virginia’s government-run schools toward spending 65 percent of their budgets in the classroom and to pare down central office administrative waste. However, sub-committee members Mamie Locke (D-2, Hampton) and Janet Howell (D-32, Fairfax) and every educrat organization in Virginia, such as the VEA and the Virginia School Boards Association, lambasted the bill as "undermining public education," despite the fact it would improve education by putting more money into instruction, as several states have with great success — and waste less on administrative overhead and bureaucracy. Only Senator Frank Ruff (R-15, Clarksville) spoke in favor of the bill and made a motion to save it, but could not get the necessary second, even from fellow Republican, and sub-committee chairman, Senator Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake), who is the chair by a quirk in Senate rules. Senator Ruff was the only dissenting vote in the full committee, as well.

Liberals like to call conservatives and negative, lacking in creativity and vision, always saying "no." We ask, when are liberals going to stop reflexively saying no to reform and what are their suggestions (except more money for the status quo)? Do they really think the current education system is working as is?