Senator Richard Stuart

Student Freedom Of Speech Bill Passes Senate!

Tuesday afternoon, the Virginia Senate passed SB 236, legislation that will clarify the free speech and religious liberty protections of public school students. The bill, a high priority for The Family Foundation, passed by a vote of 20-18, largely along party lines. Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), a longtime defender of religious liberty, is the bill's patron. Based on existing law in two states that has not been challenged in the courts, Carrico's bill would create what the law calls "limited public forums" at certain public school events, which restrict schools from censoring subject matter simply because it is from a faith perspective. The schools can still "limit" the speech to the matter at hand. For example, a graduation speech still has to be about graduating, but it can contain statements about the importance of faith. The bill also protects students' rights to organize prayer groups, have events such as "see you at the pole" gatherings, wear clothing which express religious sentiments and the like.

Several senators expressed support for the bill, including Senator Tom Garrett (R-22, Louisa). Senator Garrett's passionate defense of freedom of expression and religious liberty as a whole was topped only by his answers to questions posed by an opponent to the bill, Senator Donald McEachin (D-9, Richmond). Senator McEachin, attempting to stump the bill's proponents, asked numerous questions about the supposed need to define various phrases used in the bill. However, he severely underestimated Senator Garrett's knowledge of religious liberty case law. Senator Garrett eagerly and deftly answered McEachin's questions and furthermore challenged him to apply this bill not just to Christian religious speech, but rather to all religious speech. Garrett also argued that students should be allowed to articulate and hear philosophies and beliefs that are unpopular or minority views for the good of their education.

Also defending the bill were Senators Dick Black (R-13, Loudoun) and Richard Stuart (R-4, Fredericksburg). Senator Stuart pointed out that while legislators on both sides of the isle complain about the SOLs and the "teaching to the test without teaching critical thinking," this bill would provide the opportunity for viewpoints that not everyone agrees with to be expressed, which motivates critical thinking.

The opposition misrepresented the legislation by claiming that it would "coerce" students to hear a viewpoint that may be "offensive." Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30, Alexandria) warned of "coercive prayer" to students who are compelled to attend a function. In fact, the bill doesn't offer special protection to religious speech, but simply the same protection that is offered any other type of speech at a school function. It evens the playing field for students who have a religious viewpoint, protecting them from unwarranted discrimination, and only requires school boards to adopt policies that protect that speech.

We appreciate that 19 of 20 Republicans voted to support religious liberty with their votes for the bill, as well as Democrat Senator Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazwell). The only Republican to vote against the measure was Senator John Watkins (R-10, Chesterfield).

A similar bill, HB 493, patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), is working its way through the House of Delegates.

Choose Life Plates Reported To House Floor!

Early this morning the House Committee on Transportation, on a 15-7 vote, reported to the House floor Senator Ken Cuccinelli's (R-37, Fairfax) legislation to provide an opportunity for Virginians to show their support for life by purchasing "Choose Life" license plates (see Senate floor debate here). Money earned from these plates would help fund qualifying pregnancy resource centers throughout the Commonwealth. The bill, SB 817, patroned by Senator Richard Stuart (R-28, Montross) will be voted on by the full House early next week. Because the bill was amended in a Transportation sub-committee, should it pass the House, it will have to be accepted again by the Senate.

Since the House floor vote will take place early next week, it's important to contact your delegate now (contact list here) and urge him or her to vote for SB 817. By making our voices heard we can allow Virginians to publicly show their support for life, while providing a greater source of funding for pregnancy resource centers, not to mention seeing the continued exasperated countenances of Planned Parenthood, NARAL and ACLU members.

Choose Life Follow-Up: Take Action!

Yesterday morning the bill, SB 817, patroned by Senator Richard Stuart (R-28, Montross), narrowly squeaked by in a House Transportation sub-committee by a 4-3 vote, all while Planned Parenthood and the ACLU sat in the room surely wondering why they can't kill this bill. As Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), the author of the bill's Choose Life amendment, left the sub-committee, he asked the chairman, Delegate Edward Scott (R-30, Culpeper), if he should be present for the full  Transportation Committee hearing of the bill. Delegate Scott said he should.  Thus, the long, twisted, slow slog to get such a simple, commonsense, popular and practical policy passed continues (see here). The saga, as the old television announcers would say, goes on.

However, its prospects in the House still should be good. It can and should pass — and it will — with your help. Make your voices heard so we can allow Virginians to publicly show their support for life, while providing a greater source of funding for pregnancy resource centers — not to mention seeing the continued exasperation of Planned Parenthood, NARAL and the ACLU. That alone is worth the price of admission, and it's an easy price to pay:

Simply contact members of the House Transportation Committee (click here for the committee's contact information) and tell them you want them to vote for Choose Life plates. 

Then, before too long, we can brighten Virginia's roads with a positive message of life. Annoying limousine and other assorted liberals simply would be a delightful coincidence.

What Happened And How: "Choose Life" License Plates Pass Senate!

Here are the details of the shocking development on the Senate floor within the last hour which is bound to have the knickers of Planned Parenthood types in a twist and assorted liberals in an extended spot of bother, especially when cars with "Choose Life" license plates zip past them along the streets and byways of their tony precincts. Background: SB 801 was a bill patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) that would have not only created "Choose Life" license plates, but would have sent part of its proceeds to pregnancy resource centers around Virginia. Unfortunately, the bill died on a 6-6 vote in the Senate Transportation Committee a couple of days ago when two Republican senators, Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) and John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian), abstained from voting.

Opposition: This was a simple commonsense bill. Even to people who claim abortion is a last resort and who claim to be for "choice" it should have been an innocent piece of legislation. But the pro-abortion opposition —which cannot tolerate even anything optional that promotes life —denounced the plates as political in nature, and thus not allowable by law. Further, a family practitioner attacked crisis pregnancy centers in her testimony. 

On the floor: When another license plate bill came up on the Senate floor a little while ago, SB 817, its patron, Senator Richard Stuart (R-28, Montross), asked the body to accept the bill's committee substitute (a pro forma procedure), and was so moved by the Senate. Then Senator Cuccinelli rose and offered an amendment to include the Choose Life plates.

Reaction: Immediately, Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) asked the chair, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, to rule the amendment non-germane. However, the LG quickly replied that while he may have had an argument in the original bill, now that Senator Saslaw and the rest of the Senate had adopted the committee amendments — which expanded the bill to include a panoply of plates that the LG gladly rattled off — he had no case. Just like that, there was a vote on agreeing to the amendment and it squeaked by 20-19. One pro forma procedural vote later, the new bill passed 33-5.

Victory: We're still waiting for the LIS site to post the yeas and neas, but the parliamentary maneuvering here was spectacular and dramatic, not to mention the glee we had in seeing Senator Saslaw tied in knots by Senate rules! This also shows, at least as far as some legislation, the Senate GOP is more effective as a one-seat minority then they were as a majority, mostly because it forces them to stick together (at least sometimes) and they want to prove they deserve to return to majority status by flashing some conservative credentials. What would actually happen if they recaptured control is a question for another day. Right now, it's time to enjoy this and work for SB 817's passage in the House.

Kumbayah Moment Of The Day

Here's a first. We've had Quotes of the Day, reported on odd bills and other unusual public and behind-the-scenes moments around the capitol and during the General Assembly over the last year. This was something different, however. I was in Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee. Not that I had any business there, but it was the only place to corner a senator I needed to speak to on an important bill. (Tip of the Day: This is how you lobby legislators — you stake them out.)

One should always bring a newspaper or laptop to keep oneself occupied and/or amused during these situations because the legislation discussed can utterly bore you to sleep. (Not entirely bad when you're putting in 12-14 hour days.) On the other hand, these committee meetings where you have no bills to keep you interested sometimes pleasantly surprise you. Today was a case in point, where I witnessed our first ever Kumbayah Moment Of The Day.

Senator Louis Lucas (D-18, Portsmouth) introduced a bill that had something to do with special use ABC permits. Afraid her verbal demolition of a colleague's bill the previous day would hurt her bill's chances of clearing the committee, the flamboyant senator played meek. After introducing the bill and addressing the committee, she said:

"Senator Stuart, I apologize for what I said about your bill yesterday because I need your help now."

Replied Senator Richard Stuart (R-28, Montross):

"I never hold grudges. I like you too much to hold grudges."

The bill passed. Rest assured, though, this won't last — and the fireworks will return. Session is only three days old.