Senator Ralph Smith

Two For Two On Two

Earlier today, the Senate unanimously passed two necessary budget transparency bills: SB 1129, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), identifies earmarks; and SB 1161, patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-19, Roanoke County), requires the proposed conference committee budget to be posted online for 48 hours before it's voted on. Just a few years ago, the 48-hour bill couldn't even get a motion in sub-committee. Now it's up to Virginians to demand from the House, which has killed similar bills in sub-committee for years, to pass these bills! We'll update you later in the week. Prior to that, two truly pro-family pieces of legislation, affecting students and parents, passed major hurdles: The Senate passed SB 1074, the Student Groups Bill (freedom of association for college student clubs), patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), 22-18; and the House passed HB 1642, the Parents Rights Bill, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City County), 70-30.

Two bills passed each on two important areas of concern regarding family and individual liberty as well as government accountability. Not a bad batting average for morning.

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!

Budget Reform And Transparency Bills Face Key Committee Votes Friday!

We found out earlier today that the Senate Rules Committee (click here for members' contact information) will hear, two important budget reform and transparency bills tomorrow morning. Of course, the Rules Committee meets at the call of the chair (not much transparency there), so by process of elimination we found out it would be tomorrow (see video of the sub-committee hearing). Both bills have a tough mountain to climb and we need your help to get the full committee to report the bills to the Senate floor. Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) is the patron of SB 867, a "read the bill" bill. It requires a 72-hour period from the time the budget is submitted to the House and Senate by the House-Senate Conference Committee to the time of the vote. During that time legislators could actually read the budget bill and comprehend its contents — the two-year budget contains $70 billion worth of spending. Currently, they get only a few hours on the last day of session and are expected to digest the entire document (as thick as a phone book) and vote up or down under a great deal of time-related pressure: Either vote for a massive budget bill or shut down the government. This bill will bring long-needed inspection and transparency to the budget process, not only for legislators but also for the public. The more eyes on the bill, the more wasteful spending can be caught.

The second bill, SB 1353, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), would prohibit the House-Senate Budget conference committee (12 members of the General Assembly) from including in its budget any funding for non-state agencies, funding for projects that were not introduced as legislation during session, and items that were not included in either chamber’s version of the budget — unless the chairmen of the money committees enumerate those items in a letter to all 140 members of the legislature. This is vital! So much of the final budget is a mystery and this would shine the spotlight on legislators who insert "earmarks" in the budget that they were afraid to ask their colleagues to vote on separately as all other bills must be.

Virginia's budget process leaves much to be desired and is no way to run the country’s best managed state. But your voice matters. Please members of the Rules Committee and ask them to vote to report these two fundamentally sound and needed reforms.

Two Big Budget, Spending Reform/Transparency Bills Advance In Senate Today!

We like being pleasantly shocked, and this morning certainly qualified as one. Of all things, a Senate Rules sub-committee voted to favorably report two important reforms for spending and transparency: SB 867, patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt), and SB 1353, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). The former won by a 2-1 vote with Senators Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk) and Phillip Puckett (D-38, Tazewell) voting in favor. The sub-committee chairman, Senator John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke) dissented. Senator Norment's bill passed 3-nil. This is a fairly major breakthrough. Though both bills have a long way to go, both cleared hurdles with which they have had trouble in years past. This was the third year for Senator Smith's bill — which requires a 72-hour period and Internet posting of the House-Senate conference committee budget before it can be voted on (read the bill!) — and the first time it has gained sub-committee approval. In fact, it had never even received a seconding motion prior to yesterday. Senator Norment's bill — which requires the disclosure of all "earmark" type spending in the conference committee report — also has been defeated in the early legislative stages in past years. 

Not only will these bills, if they become law, make for more open and accountable government, lawmakers will make more informed decisions, they will make for smaller government: With more eyes on the budget the more waste will be found and less pork will be placed in there to begin with. The 12 budget conferees should not have the power and privilege to stick spending items in the budget that were not voted on and vetted in the normal legislative process.

Each bill now goes to full committee which will meet by the end of the week. Please contact members of the Senate Rules Committee as soon as possible and urge them to pass these vital reforms this session. Below are the videos of each bill's hearing. Your humble blog admin makes a couple of cameo appearances.

Read the bill! Especially when you're spending $70 billion of our tax money!

A little sunshine on the sausage makes it taste a lot better!

Life Bills In Senate Education And Health Committee Thursday!

It's that time of session again. Thursday, the Senate Education and Health Committee will vote on multiple pro-life bills. This is the committee that has blocked meaningful pro-life legislation for years. Despite the history, we still want to make sure every member of that committee knows where their constituents stand on this issue — particularly since it’s an election year.  Please contact the senators on this committee (click here for committee contact links) and urge them to support SB 1202, SB 1207/SB1378, SB1217, and SB 1435. These pro-life bills could radically change the culture of life in our Commonwealth:

SB 1202: Abortion Funding Opt-Out for ObamaCare ObamaCare puts states in charge of their own health insurance exchanges for individuals and small businesses. If enacted today, Virginia could potentially include in its exchange health insurance plans that cover elective abortion.  Pro-family citizens opposed to abortion would be mandated to fund this unethical destruction of human life. SB 1202, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), is a bill that would prevent insurance plans in the Virginia health insurance exchange from providing abortion coverage. Five other states have taken this step so far, and several more are considering doing so, while Pennsylvania and Maryland are allowing abortion coverage.   SB 1435: Ultrasound/Informed Consent SB 1435, patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt), updates Virginia's informed consent law with modern technology. It would require a woman to have an ultrasound and the option of viewing it prior to an abortion. Currently, a woman is given a pamphlet with generic pictures of fetal development. This bill would give the woman specific information about her child and allow her to make a truly informed decision. It also would help prevent mistaking the gestational age of the unborn child that can lead to illegal abortions. Two years ago, this bill died in this committee with a vote of 11-4.   SB 1378 and SB 1207: Wrongful Death of the Unborn SB 1207, patroned by Senator Obenshain, and SB 1378, patroned by Senator Bill Stanley (R-19, Danville), are bills that would provide protection (civil recourse) for the unborn in cases where they lose their life due to the negligence of another. While Virginia's code does include a fetal homicide law, the same unborn life, taken without intention or premeditation, elicits no civil penalty. Improving our civil law to recognize fetal manslaughter is essential. An unborn life is not only of value when it is wanted by the mother or when its life is intentionally taken by another.   SB 1217: Coerced Abortion SB 1217, patroned by Senator Smith, provides that any person who forces or coerces a pregnant female of any age to have an abortion against her will is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Shockingly, this type of coercion is not currently criminalized. Given that homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women according to a study in the Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health, Virginia needs to do more to protect women and their wanted unborn children. Women should not be forced to abort to avoid violence. Last year, this bill died in this committee by a vote of 10-5.    Be a voice for the voiceless and let these senators know that you will be watching how they vote with the expectation that they will vote yes for life this Thursday.

Spending Reform And Transparency Bills In Senate Sub-Committee Tomorrow!

Tomorrow morning, a Senate Rules sub-committee will vote on two important reforms that will bring greater transparency — and thus, less government — to the Commonwealth's budget and spending practices. Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) is the patron of SB 867, a "read the bill" bill. It requires a 72-hour period from the time the budget is submitted to the House and Senate by the House-Senate Conference Committee. During that time legislators could actually read the budget bill and comprehend its contents — the two-year budget contains $70 billion worth of spending. Currently, they get only a few hours on the last day of session and are expected to digest the entire document (as thick as a phone book) and vote up or down under a great deal of time-related pressure: Either vote for a massive budget bill or shut down the government. This bill will bring long-needed inspection and transparency to the budget process, not only for legislators but also for the public. The more eyes on the bill, the more wasteful spending can be caught. 

The second bill is SB 1353, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). It would prohibit the House and Senate Budget conference committee from including in its budget any funding for non-state agencies, funding for projects that were not introduced as legislation during session, and items that were not included in either chamber’s version of the budget — unless the chairmen of the money committees enumerate those types of spending items in a letter to all 140 members of the legislature and post it on the committees' Web sites. Most of the final budget is a mystery and lawmakers only have a few hours to digest all $70 billion in the document. It also would shine the spotlight on legislators who insert in the budget what they were afraid to ask their colleagues to vote on separately as all other bills must be. Right now, the few members of the House-Senate Conference Committee have a privilege no one else has — they can insert spending that has not been vetted through the regular legislative process — no sub-committee, no committee, no floor votes in either chamber. They get buried in the budget and get passed into law as part of a mammoth spending bill that funds our police, schools and transportation.

Virginia's budget process leaves much to be desired and is no way to run the country's best managed state. Contact the senators on the sub-committee and ask them to vote to report SB 867 and SB 1353 to the full committee!

After Years Of Roadblocks, Are The Days Over For Unregulated Abortion Centers In Virginia?

As we noted yesterday, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued an opinion Friday that clearly explains the legal basis on which the Commonwealth of Virginia can regulate abortion centers absent legislation by the General Assembly. While laws are more lasting, his advisory opinion —sought by Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Roanoke) and Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas) —  means that abortion centers operating in Virginia can be regulated by the executive branch through the state's normal regulatory process. Providing safety standards for Virginia's abortion centers have been a legislative priority for The Family Foundation for many years. Until the mid-1980s, abortion centers in Virginia were regulated. Unfortunately, the administration of then-Governor Chuck Robb repealed those regulations due to constitutional concerns. Since that time, however, as the attorney general's opinion notes, federal appeals courts have ruled that such regulations are constitutional. Yet, in Virginia, abortion centers continue to be regarded by the state as doctors' offices, which require no emergency equipment for resuscitation or hemorrhage, despite the fact that abortion is a major invasive surgical procedure. 

The Family Foundation has worked for years in the General Assembly for common sense legislation to improve safety standards in abortion centers to equal those required for ambulatory (outpatient) surgery centers. Of course, the abortion industry in Virginia — Planned Parenthood and NARAL — fight with all their political muscle against these safety standards for women in their abortion centers. Each year its allies on the Committee of Death (Senate Education and Health Committee) reject simple requirements such as an annual inspection and having a defibrillator on site.

They argue that the abortion procedure is safe, despite the fact that the state doesn't have any reporting requirements for complications due to abortion (also fought against by the abortion industry), so there is no way to really know. They also argue that abortion centers shouldn't be "singled out" for regulation.

What they don't say is that other outpatient surgery businesses are self-regulated through respected, national accreditation organizations that require significant safety measures for their seal of approval. No such respected accreditation group exists for abortionists.

The Attorney General's opinion gives Governor Bob McDonnell's administration the opportunity to create necessary regulations for abortion centers without approval from the General Assembly. Since state agencies such as the Board of Health already have the power to regulate medical facilities this is not a new policy or a policy change that should require legislation. Previous governors simply have not acted on this ability. This opinion now clears the legal path to such needed action.

Cuccinelli: Virginia Has Legal Authority To Regulate Abortion Centers

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued an official advisory opinion Friday that states the Commonwealth of Virginia has the legal authority to regulate abortion centers. The opinion was in response to a formal inquiries by Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) and Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas) asking the attorney general for a legal opinion as to whether Virginia has the administrative authority to regulate facilities and providers in which and who perform first trimester abortions. The answer from the attorney general is yes, provided they meet the criteria set forth in U.S. Supreme Court precedent. He cited previous Virginia regulations and the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' upholding of abortion center regulations in other states.

For years, the Senate Education and Health Committee has killed common sense legislation, passed by large bipatisan House majorities, regulating abortion centers in a manner consistent with other medical facilities. The "Committee of Death" accepts pro-abortion claims that such regulations are "unconstitutional." But in his statement accompanying the release of the opinion, Senator Smith said, "This opinion clarifies any legal questions on the issue and sets the stage for regulating abortion clinics like other medical facilities."

In other words, even if the General Assembly does not act the executive branch may, on its own initiative, regulate abortion centers just as it does other medical facilities (of course, regulations may be changed by each administration, whereas laws are more lasting). Here are some of the more salient points from the opinion (click here for entire opinion, including footnotes): 

Medical facilities that provide abortion services in addition to many other services across a variety of disciplines clearly are subject to regulation by the Board. I note, however, that although the Board classifies "abortion clinics" as outpatient hospitals, neither the Regulations nor the Code define the term. Moreover, unlike later abortions, first-trimester abortions are not required to be performed in licensed hospitals. Health centers limiting their practice to specializing in reproductive services therefore often characterize themselves as "physicians' offices," whereby they are exempted from the Board's licensure requirements. Nonetheless, the Board has broad authority to adopt regulations as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of Title 32.1, and this regulatory authority includes defining an "abortion clinic," investigating the assertion by a facility that it constitutes physician's office, and regulating facilities beyond licensure.

Irrespective of the Board of Health's ability to regulate facilities, the Board of Medicine is vested with authority to regulate the practice of medicine, which includes providing guidelines for certain procedures and the ability to license, investigate, and discipline physicians, including those who perform abortions. The BOM's Regulations Governing the Practice of Medicine, Osteopathic Medicine, Podiatry and Chiropractic sets forth, for example, requirements for the proper administration of general anesthesia in non-hospital settings, a procedure that may be necessary depending on the abortion method employed. ...

In addition to applying regulations governing medical facilities and health care providers in general, the relevant agencies are authorized to impose regulations particular to abortion services. The General Assembly has afforded certain agencies broad authority to regulate in the area of health and has permitted them to classify facilities, procedures and personnel as they deem necessary and to promulgate regulations accordingly. ... The potential complications of abortion procedures include hemorrhage, cervical laceration, uterine perforation, injury to the bowels or bladder and pulmonary complications. Furthermore, these complications "must be immediately and adequately treated." Regulatory boards may distinguish between abortion and other procedures because, "'abortion is inherently different from other medical procedures," and "for the purpose of regulation, abortion services are rationally distinct from other routine medical services if for no other reason than the particular gravitas of the moral, psychological, and familial aspects of the abortion decision."

Based on Virginia's police power to protect its citizen's health and welfare, the broad authority granted to the regulatory boards, and the extensive statutory and regulatory scheme currently applicable to physicians performing abortions and the facilities in which such services are available, I conclude that the Commonwealth, by the Virginia Board of Health, the Virginia Board of Medicine, or any other proper agency, has the authority to continue to promulgate regulations affecting the performance of first trimester abortions. ... 

Virginia previously exercised this authority, when on November 12, 1981, the Virginia Board of Health adopted "Rules and Regulations for . . . Licensure of Outpatient Hospitals, Performing Abortions Only" . ... the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit provides clear guidance with respect to what constitutes permissible regulation and what does not.

Questions And Answers Regarding The Virginia Senate

After all the reporting we've done this week on SB 504, Senator Ralph Smith's (R-22, Roanoke) coerced abortion bill, and the Senate's mischief with it, the in-box has been flooded and the phone lines burned up with questions. We are grateful for your interest and for your desire to get involved. With all the interest, we decided to compile a FAQ list, of sorts. Here goes:   Who hires the Clerk of the Senate?

Mrs. Susan Schaar is the Clerk of the Senate and has held that office since 1990. According to Senate Rule 8a:

A Clerk of the Senate shall be elected by the Senate for a term of four years and shall thereafter continue in office until another is chosen.

Among the Clerk’s duties are the maintenance of all Senate records and the referral of bills to committees. In different circumstances, we would provide you with Mrs. Schaar’s contact information and ask for you to contact her to encourage judicious bill referrals. However, since Mrs. Schaar is not elected by the populace and instead is elected by the Senate — and instructed to strictly follow its rules — contacting her to encourage changes to bill referrals is not the most appropriate course of action.

When can "the rule" be changed?

According to Rule 54 of the Senate, the Senate rules are adopted at the beginning of the first General Assembly session upon the election of the Senate. The Rules were last adopted in January 2008. Amendments can be made any year; however, January 2012 is the next year rules will be adopted.

What can I do?

Contacting legislators really does make a difference. In the past, we’ve seen that even as few as two or three e-mails or calls from constituents can cause a legislator to reconsider his or her vote. Concerning this bill, there are two things you can do:

1. Contact the Senate Courts of Justice Committee members (see below). Thank those who supported SB 504 for their principled stand for life. For those who opposed SB 504, let them know that you were monitoring this bill and that you were disappointed with their vote.

2. Contact the Senate Education and Health Committee members (click here) and encourage them to support SB 504.

How can I express thanks/disappointment to senators on their SB 504 vote?

Below are the names and contact information for the Senators on the full Senate Courts of Justice committee. E-mailing or calling is the best way to contact these senators to express your thanks or disappointment.

Senators to thank for voting to add penalties for coerced abortion:

Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk), district13@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7513

Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), district03@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7503

Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville), district20@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7520

Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), district26@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7526

Ryan McDougle (R-4, Mechanicsville), district04@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7504

Robert Hurt (R-19, Chatham), district19@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7519

Senators voting against adding penalties for coerced abortion:

Henry Marsh (D-16, Richmond), district16@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7516

Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), district25@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7535

Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), district32@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7532

Louise Lucas (D-18, Portsmouth), district18@senate.virginia.gov, 804-98-7518

John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke), district21@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7521

Toddy Puller (D-36, Mount Vernon), district36@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7536

Creigh Deeds (D-25, Charlottesville), district25@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7525

Don McEachin (D-9, Richmond), district09@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7509

Chap Petersen (D-34, Fairfax) , district34@senate.virginia.gov, 804-698-7526

UPDATE: The Sordid Tale Of SB 504, Courts Of Justice, Ed And Health And Re-Referal

Clerical error or not, Senate pro-abortion advocates had their way with SB 504, Senator Ralph Smith's (R-22, Roanoke) coerced abortion bill in the full Senate Courts of Justice Committee committee this afternoon. Despite a valiant effort by committee member Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) to hear the bill in the full Senate Courts committee, the ultimate result was a 9-6 vote to re-refer SB504 to Senate Education and Health and essentially assure its demise. Also noteworthy, were Senators Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) and Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville) for their vocal support of SB 504. Senator Reynolds stated that SB 504 has heard in sub-committee already and that this motion to re-refer the bill had come too late and was disrespectful of the sub-committee members' time and effort. He said that he was here to debate policy, not to waste time on bill re-referrals and game playing.

Senators Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) and Henry Marsh (D-16, Richmond) led the charge to re-refer the bill relying solely on "the rule" that no one until today has publicly cited stating that all pregnancy related bills must go to Senate Education and Health. This rule (which we now believe to be 18D) is what pro-abortion legislators have hid behind in order to prevent any pro-life victories. This one rule has single-handedly blocked the success of pro-life legislation!

However, SB 504 creates criminal and civil penalties for domestic violence cases in which the woman happens to be pregnant! Somehow the full Courts committee did not see fit to hear arguments on this form of domestic violence despite the fact that it would create new penalties and passed the buck to the Education and Health committee. The Clerk of the Senate, Susan Schaar, even made it to the committee room in time to watch the procedural shell game.

This blog post does not do justice to the events of today. Please visit our YouTube channel to see the video we captured of this illogical and hypocritical debate. I believe you'll find the most astounding part to actually be on the debate that follows SB 504. This debate revolved around SB 556, a bill that would add criminal penalties to crimes against incapacitated adults including those who are mentally or physically ill or disabled.

As Senator Obenshain points out, SB 556 and SB 504 have a great deal in common in that both are adding criminal penalties for specific groups of persons. SB 504 deals with pregnant women and SB 566 deals with incapacitated adults. Senator Obenshain, in keeping with the theme of the debate on coerced abortion, proceeded to make a motion to refer SB 566 to Education and Health citing Senate rule 18D which defines “disabilities” and puts this under the jurisdiction of Education and Health. This threw the committee for a loop and out came some absurd arguments in an attempt to differentiate SB 556 from SB 504. In the end, Senator Obenshain's motion failed and the incapacitated adults bill hypocritically remained in the Courts committee despite the committee's referral minutes earlier of the coerced abortion bill.

The Family Foundation would like to especially thank Senators Mark Obenshain and Roscoe Reynolds for their courageous efforts today to stand on the side of justice and for their passionate support of this pro-family bill. If there is one blessing in this whole escapade it is that, since this bill has never gone to the Senate floor, at least several more senators now have a recorded vote in favor of killing the coerced abortion bill.

UPDATE: SB 504 Will Be Heard In Full Courts Of Justice Committee This Afternoon Today!

We finally have some answers as to why there was an unexpected and incorrect change in committee referrals to SB 504, a bill patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Roanoke) that would criminalize coerced or forced abortions. It was assigned to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, where it was heard in sub-committee earlier this week. Last night, all of a sudden, its legislative services Web page listed it as in the Committee on Education and Health. Cutting to the quick: SB 504 will, in fact, be heard in the full Courts of Justice Committee this afternoon. (Click here to see the committee docket.) So, while you're here, click to see the committee members and ask them to support it!

The question The Family Foundation asked was this: Is this a clerical error or an attempt to tamper with a pro-life bill that has seen unexpected success in the Senate? This morning, we did some digging and found an answer to our question.

In the Senate, the Clerk of the Senate (Susan Schaar) is responsible for referring all bills to committees. Mrs. Schaar is in an unelected position, however she holds an almost unparalleled amount of power in the Senate. Because of the way certain Senate committees are proportioned, assigning a bill to certain committees is often a foolproof way to secure the demise of a good bill. We see this often with pro-life bills in the Senate.

When we first received notice that SB504 would be sent to the Senate Courts committee, we were pleased because this was the first time a coerced abortion bill was properly placed. This bill addresses criminal and civil penalties and therefore belonged in the Courts committee, not Senate Education and Health where it had been referred in previous years.

Here’s what we found out from several sources is said to have happened: Mrs. Schaar said that she did not realize that SB504 had had a hearing in the Senate Courts subcommittee and therefore when she made last night’s change, she did so believing that she had changed the original referral back to the “proper” committee – Senate Education and Health. Mrs. Schaar said that since a hearing had taken place in the Courts subcommittee, she would allow SB504 to continue to be heard at the full Courts committee today. A clerical error? That’s for you to decide.

So as of now, SB504 has been returned to the appropriate committee and will be heard today at 2pm. Please keep the full Senate Courts Committee, Senator Ralph Smith and The Family Foundation staff in your prayers as a win in this committee today would be very significant for pro-family advocates. There will likely be efforts today to kill the bill either directly or subtly (re-referral to Senate Education and Health as Senator Don McEachin (D-9, Richmond) wanted in subcommittee). While there would be a few more hurdles left after this, today’s full committee is the most significant challenge and successful passage would be one of the largest accomplishments for pro-life advocates in years.

UPDATE: Case Of The Whitewashed Bill SB 504

We have learned several things about SB 504, the coerced abortion bill patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Roanoke), and why its legislative history was whitewashed from its legislative services Web page and why it appears to have been re-referred from the Senate Courts of Justice Committee to the Committee on Education and Health. Some may be plausible, some not. All is murky at this point. We still are looking for clarification from several Senate sources and hope to have complete answers later today. Please check back here as well as your e-mail for further updates.

Mischief In Senate Courts? We're Just Asking.

Yesterday, the Senate Courts of Justice Criminal Sub-committee voted to recommend SB 504 to the full Courts committee by a 4-2 margin. The bill criminally penalizes coerced abortions (such as when a boyfriend physically threatens his pregnant girlfriend) and is patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Roanoke). It was the first time this bill had cleared a Senate sub-committee before with a positive vote. It's also the first time it's ever been in Courts. In previous years, it was in Education and Health (known as the "Committee of Death") where it dies quickly. So, on to the full Courts Committee where it might have a chance, right? Not so fast, because something funny happened on the way to the full committee. We think. We're not sure. We're just asking, that's all.

The bill was supposed to be heard in the full committee tomorrow. But one of our lobbyists, in preparing for the meeting, noticed on the bill's Web page that it's entire legislative history was wiped out. Not just changed, mind you, but completely whitewashed. Instead of showing it referred to the Courts Committee and then the sub-committee and the recorded sub-committee vote, it lists a referral to Education and Health. Click here to see for yourself.

Furthermore, as you can see from the video below and yesterday's sub-committee docket, it clearly was in the Courts Criminal Sub-committee (click here). In the video, Sub-committee Chairman Senator Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville) clearly announces the vote total and its next stop in the legislative process, the full Courts of Justice Committee. That should be reflected in the bill's history on its Web page. But it is not. Why? Instead, no votes are recorded, there's no mention of it even being in the Courts Committee and, as if nothing has happened, it appears as an idle bill waiting to be heard for the first time this session in Education and Health.

The only way the SB 504 could be in Education and Health is if a subsequent motion was made to re-refer. But a lobbyist with an allied organization sat through the entire sub-committee meeting and reports that no such motions were made.

So, why does the bill's Web page show that it is in Ed and Health? The coerced abortion bill is as close as it has ever been to a vote on the Senate floor. We are asking only that it gets a fair committee hearing in the committee it was legislatively assigned to.

Let's go to the tape. Sub-committee Chairman Roscoe Reynolds says it, but there's no mention of it on the legislative services Web site.

The Virginia Budget: More Reform Ideas Now

Speaking of Virginia's budget process and Governor-elect Bob McDonnell's idea to reform the process whereby the lame duck, outgoing governor proposes the next two-year budget, more is needed to be done. For one, zero-based budgeting. Even Creigh Deeds supports that. As it is now, agency budgets are based on the previous year's budget. They normally get an increase, however small (and usually not small), despite its performance (see the Department of Education). Zero-based budgeting starts from scratch each year and determines what money is needed to achieve that year's objectives. But even with zero-based budgeting some unnecessary government programs remain intact. So, instead of reducing some agency budgets, some should be merged (as the House tried to do two years ago) or, better yet, eliminated. Still, zero-based budgeting would be a nice starting point for reform. Two planks out of the McDonnell-Bolling budget and spending reform platform released in September are along these lines: agency performance audit reviews and evidence based budgeting. We hope this at least moves us toward reducing the scope of spending in Richmond, if not actually significantly limiting state government's ever expanding reach (and we haven't even touched on SOQ reform).

While the budget cycle and agency appropriation formulas are the headline grabbers, there are many needed common sense reforms. Some have been proposed form time to time in the General Assembly only to be shot down for reasons serious and not. For example, one bill last year from Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), oddly enough, would bring more transparency and probably scare off lawmakers from voting in pork. It would have required that anything budget conferees stuck in their final budget report — which the two chambers must vote up or down — that was a non-state appropriation, an item not included in either chamber’s budget, or an item that represents legislation that failed during session, would have to be announced as such in letters to all 140 members by the chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees.

Another idea last year came from Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) which would require at least a day pause for reading the budget before it could be voted on. That, too, went nowhere fast.

Getting ourselves into a fiscal mess was pretty simple — the legislature and the executive over the years simply saying yes to every plea for help and imaginary solution that supposedly only money can provide. Getting ourselves out of it is pretty simple, too. But it's amazing how many simple, time tested ideas there are that can save taxpayer money and provide efficiency that never get anywhere (not to mention just saying "no").  

Many of these ideas have been studied or have worked elsewhere. There's no need for delay. The need is great to reform. The moment, with newly elected officials and a teetering economy, is now. Delay, for any reason, no longer is necessary. No that it ever was.

Family Foundation's 2009 Legislative Agenda: Teaching Benefits Of Marriage

One would assume that “Family Life Education” would include instruction about the basic make up of the “family.” Guess again.

 

After researching the commonwealth’s Standards of Learning requirements for family life education, the only reference to marriage found is not very encouraging at all:

 

"The student will provide examples of difficult family situations: abusive behavior, financial problems, separation or divorce, illness, injury or death, loss of job, family has to move, birth of a baby, remarriage, etc."

 

Gee, that’ll make kids want to grow up and get married, won’t it?

 

Earlier this year, The Family Foundation’s marriage commission met to discuss legislative proposals that will encourage and strengthen traditional marriage in Virginia. One idea was to make sure that the benefits of marriage are being taught to the next generation in Family Life Education. Most people are simply not aware that marriage is beneficial to everyone involved, as well as the community. But the science doesn't lie.

 

According to Brad Wilcox, professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and a member of The Family Foundation's marriage commission, "In general, the research shows that children who grow up in an intact, married family, are about 50 percent less likely to experience serious psychological, academic, or social problems as children or young adults, compared to children who grow up in single or step-families." Social science also shows that both men and women benefit from marriage as well.

 

Unfortunately, our culture and media portray marriage as archaic and even dangerous. Virginia is one of a growing number of states where the marriage rate, the number of people choosing to get married, is declining. It also is one of the few states where the divorce rate continues to climb.  

 

One way to reverse these trends is to begin showing our kids the positive benefits of marriage. Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown), who, along with her husband Roger, ran our marriage amendment campaign in 2006, and state Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Roanoke) have agreed to carry this priority legislation on behalf of The Family Foundation. The bill simply adds a line to the commonwealth’s Family Life Education requiring that the benefits of marriage be taught to our kids.

 

Teaching the next generation that marriage is a positive instead of something to be dreaded is just one step toward restoring marriage in general. Of course, the General Assembly should pass this bill without any decent because it is based on science, something that many members are always advocating.