Senator Tommy Norment

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.

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.

House Sub-Committee To Get Another Crack At "Earmark" Transparency Bill

The House Appropriations Committee chairman was quoted in the Washington Post last week, saying:

Do you think I know everything in the budget? I don't know what’s in a $78 billion budget . . . I don't know.

If the chairman of the budget writing committee doesn't know, who does? Tomorrow morning, members of a House Appropriations sub-committee can help rectify this situation. It will vote on an important reform that will bring greater transparency — and thus, less government — to the Commonwealth's budget and spending practices. It previously defeated a similar measure, so urgent action is needed to contact sub-committee members and ask them to vote in favor of SB 1353!

SB 1353, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), passed the Senate unanimously. It 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 (see Daily Press editorial).

This is a long overdue and simple reform that will reduce government spending — with this ray of sunshine on them, the few legislators with this "earmark" privilege will be reluctant to spend money that didn’t go through the normal legislative process.

Much of the final budget is a mystery. Lawmakers get it a few hours before the vote on the final day of session. SB 1353 would make it apparent what items are in the budget that were not voted on at any stage during session. If members want to spend, it should be voted on separately, up-or-down, and on the record, not buried  in 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. This bill would provide transparency for citizens and help lawmakers make informed decisions.

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. 

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!

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!

Governor McDonnell's Executive Directive

Late Wednesday afternoon, amidst growing tensions on college campuses, Governor Bob McDonnell issued a "Governor’s Directive," ordering those in the executive branch not to discriminate in their hiring practices (see here). His directive specifically referenced "sexual orientation." Governor McDonnell issued his directive in an apparent effort to ease the hostile atmosphere on our campuses and in the General Assembly. Four years ago, then-Attorney General McDonnell challenged Governor Tim Kaine’s executive order that added sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination policy, saying he didn’t have the authority to do so. It is still unclear exactly what legal weight, if any, a directive has, but media reports indicate that it does not have the same force of law of an executive order.

Much of the anger among college students has been generated by those who are supposed to be in authority at those schools — college presidents and administrators — who have criticized the advisory letter Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent them last week. The letter stated that public colleges and universities with anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation are in conflict with state law. Instead of providing leadership, the college presidents and administrators have provoked anger and outrage with inflamed rhetoric.

A media backlash also was fed by heated and often mean-spirited rhetoric by a handful of General Assembly members, including Senator Donald McEachin (D-9, Henrico) who, in a floor speech earlier this week, referenced Governor McDonnell’s graduate school thesis, yelling on the Senate floor, "We are being governed by the thesis!" Joining in the daily diatribes were Delegate David Englin (D-45, Alexandria) and Delegate Joe Morrissey (D-74, Henrico). It was often insinuated that anyone who disagrees with adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy is hateful and bigoted. But truth has been difficult to find in this debate.

In addition, some legislators made the outrageous claim that, without a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation, Virginia is not "business friendly" and would not be able to attract new jobs. But several publications and organizations currently recognize Virginia as the best state in America to do business without having this policy.

Nonetheless, yesterday morning, Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), in a clear conflict of interest as an employee of the College of William and Mary, one of the colleges expressing outrage over the AG’s letter, amended an economic development bill introduced by the Governor with: "The Commonwealth of Virginia maintains an ecumenical atmosphere in its sexual orientation hiring policies in the private and public workforce."

Besides being a bizarre statement, it is a frightening overreach into the private workplace, which would include religious-based ministries and churches. Fortunately, on the floor of the Senate — because of the Governor’s directive — Senator Norment removed his amendment from the bill.

The Family Foundation has and continues to maintain that there is no need for special protections for homosexuals. As the issue was thoroughly debated and voted on multiple times throughout this year’s General Assembly, no evidence of discrimination was presented.

We absolutely agree with one statement in Governor McDonnell’s directive — that state employment should be based on "qualifications, merit and performance," regardless of one’s immutable or unimmutable characteristics.

Over the next several days, we will consult with experts to determine the legal ramifications of this directive, but we are concerned when the Governor’s action is being heralded as a step forward by the ACLU and the state’s largest homosexual lobby, Equality Virginia (Pilot on Politics).

In a statement, Kent Willis of the ACLU said, "We hope this is only the beginning, and that the Governor's example will inspire legislators to finally pass a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in both private and public sector employment."

Any thought that the groups and organizations behind this effort will stop at public employment is naive. It is very clear that they want to force private businesses — including churches — to abide by their morality.

Twists And Turns Today On Health Care Freedom In Senate Commerce And Labor Today

Today, in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, the anticipated fireworks didn't materialize. But it sure did have some strange twists and turns. Although there wasn't as much hype concerning HB 10, The Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, there was due to be some suspense. The patron, Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), had reason to be confident since three similar Senate bills escaped Commerce and Labor earlier in session, albeit by 8-7 votes, due to the brave votes of Democrats Charles Colgan (D-29, Manassas) and Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell). But HB 10 is worded slightly different. One difference from the Senate bills is that it clearly limits exemptions on insurance purchase mandates in divorce settlements, an omission Senate liberals objected to in SB 417, SB 311 and SB 283. On the other hand, its protections from the federal government are a little more expansive.

Stage set, here's what happened: Delegate Marshall barely was into the introduction of the bill when he got a few questions, including one from committee chairman and Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), who asked, "Do you think we have the power to tell Congress what to do?"

Of course, the bill won't tell Congress what to do. Only that Virginia won't participate in a certain action (health care insurance mandates) that it may pass. In fact, Delegate Marshall cited a 1994 Congressional Budget Office memo during the HillaryCare debate, that stated never before had Congress mandate Americans to buy any good or service, and that doing so would open the door for other mandated purchases and a command economy. (Hopefully, our public schools still teach what political system uses a command economy.) He reasoned, that if Congress has never required an individual mandate before, it must not be legal, or it would have done so already in more than 200 years. He also cited New York v. United States where a federal court ruled in New York's favor over a federal mandate. Seemingly anxious to just get it over with, it was about here where Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath) asked if there was any difference between HB 10 and the Senate bills, which Delegate Marshall already had volunteered that there was. He amended his bill to preserve divorce settlements in which insurance coverage may be a part, something on which committee liberals hammered the Senate bills' patrons. On the other hand, his bill, in a macro constitutional sense (I love creating new phrases) was a bit broader and probably more protective of the feds than the Senate bills.

Before the committee's legal counsel and Delegate Marshall could complete their responses, motions and comments started flying all over the place. Senator Saslaw, confident that the differences were huge and that the bills were not the same, motioned that HB 10 be passed by for the year. Senator Frank Wagner (R-7, Virginia Beach) made a substitute motion to report. Senator Steve Newman (R-23, Forest) made a parliamentary inquiry if the bill could be conformed into one of the Senate bills. He was told no because the bills are in different sections of the code.

That struck me as odd right away because bills are conformed all the time. In fact, "conforming" is changing legislative language to the exact same language as another bill — in other words, that's the point! Change it and put it in any code section you want! So the motion to report was voted upon with Senators Puckett and Colgan upholding their part, but the bill failed 8-7. How could this be when the others passed? Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) voted no.

As supporters gathered outside to plan a next step — primarily, to get Senator Norment to offer a motion to reconsider at the next meeting — word came out of the committee room to head back in: That's what indeed he was doing! So the bill was brought right back up, interrupting the introduction of the next bill. After the motion to reconsider passed, a motion to — believe it or not — conform it to SB 417 was made and passed on a 8-7 vote. So, HB 10 survives, amended to the same language as SB 417. You like unintended consequences (something liberals are always warning us about)? Good, because now the protections for divorce orders is gone!

It should now pass the Senate floor, where it will go back to the House. It remains to be seen if Delegate Marshall will then insist on his original language when it returns there and force a conference committee, or if he'll take what he has. Does he want pride of authorship? Or, knowing the other bill will become law, does he want to roll the dice and try to get the additional protections in HB 10 to become the law of the Commonwealth?

Homosexual Agenda Bills Pass Senate, Hit Roadblock In House Today

The past 24 hours have been good for Virginia’s homosexual lobby, at least in the Virginia Senate, where two key legislative initiatives passed. But there also is positive news for values voters in the House of Delegates. Yesterday, the Senate passed SB 66, legislation that would add sexual orientation (and "gender identity or expression") to the state’s non-discrimination in hiring laws (see Richmond Times-Dispatch). Despite no evidence being presented anywhere in the process that discrimination is taking place, the bill passed 23-17, with one Republican, Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk), joining all 22 Senate Democrats who favored the measure.

Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) argued against the bill during the floor debate, adding the fact that should this bill become law, the Commonwealth would open itself up for extensive litigation by those who claim they have been discriminated against regardless of their job qualifications.

Today, SB 451, legislation that would allow local governments to offer domestic partner benefits, and patroned by Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31, Arlington), passed the Senate 26-14. This took place despite the fact that this legislation could have a significant fiscal impact on the Commonwealth through increased Standards of Quality funding. Republican Senators Quayle, John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian), Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake), and floor leader Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) joined the 22 Democrats.

These bills still must be vetted in and voted on in the House. We encourage you to contact your delegates to defeat these unnecessary bills. If you do, we are quite hopeful that these bills will not find equal favor there.

In fact, earlier this evening, a House General Laws Sub-committee defeated HB 1116, mirror legislation to SB 66. It was patroned by Delegate Adam Ebbin (D-49, Arlington). The vote was 5-3 with Delegates John Cosgrove (R-78, Chesapeake), Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax), Ed Scott (R-30, Culpepper), Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), and Rich Anderson (R-51, Woodbridge) voted against the bill. This indicates that SB 66 has little hope for success in the House.

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.

Virginia News Stand: October 13, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations  The Debate Review Edition

The headlines say it all about last night's gubernatorial debate. Or at least say what the individual reporters say is all. They range from Democrat Creigh Deeds' continued haranguing of the "the thesis" issue, to both he and Republican Bob McDonnell going after each other equally, to it was a snoozer. That's pretty much it today — lots and lots of debate coverage, but that's what happens when there are so few and so few televised this late in the game. It becomes a media focus. Even the New York Times weighs in, again, on the campaign, it's third article in short succession. In other news, The Daily Press takes a look at Senator Tommy Norment's (R-3, Williamsburg) arrangement with William & Mary, Liberty University does its part for representative democracy, ObamaCare isn't popular in Virginia, and some ministers have something to say on same-sex marriage. All that and more, below.

News:

Deeds accuses McDonnell of 'lying' in Virginia Gov debate (Washington Times)

Deeds blasts McDonnell on thesis (The Daily Press)

Deeds sticks to his campaign script (Politico.com)

Candidates for governor clash on taxes, Obama (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Barbs Traded on Taxes, Traffic in Prime Time (Washington Post)

Televised debate generates a few sparks (Roanoke Times)

McDonnell and Deeds give personal takes on social issues (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Deeds, McDonnell tread softly in first televised debate (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Little new ground in debate (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)

GOP Fervor Mounts As McDonnell Leads (Washington Post)

Gubernatorial candidate profile: Creigh Deeds shaped by rural roots (Roanoke Times)

McDonnell: A Razor-Sharp but Selective Memory (Washington Post)

Second Thoughts in Battle for Virginia (New York Times)

State employees appear in ad for McDonnell (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

In delegate race, incumbent Bell touts record as Neff presses reform (Charlottesville Daily Progress)

Get out the vote: Liberty U. cancels Election Day classes (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Sen. Norment part of unique legal setup at W&M (The Daily Press)

Poll: Nearly half in Virginia oppose Obama's plan for health-care reform (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Va. ministers protest ban on gay marriage (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Transparency Bills Breeze Through Senate And House; Not So Fast

The good news? The Senate today accepted Ken Cuccinelli's (R-37, Fairfax) floor amendment to conform HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), to his SB 936 by a unanimous vote. The House, meanwhile, unanimously approved SB 936. Sounds all so cut-and-dried, let's-send-it-to- the-third-floorish, right? That'd be too easy.

Here's what happened late this morning. As you will recall from yesterday, Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Henrico) raised concerns that language in the floor substitute might allow for Social Security numbers to be put online. The bill was passed by for the day for the day in order to work that out. However, as the Senate discovered today, federal law safeguards such a happenstance and all were prepped to go forward.

Then stepped up Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). Exactly what might he want? It seems he had a little bill that would bring some much needed reform to the workings of the two chambers (SB 1401). It would require that anything budget conferees stuck in their final budget report —which the two chambers must vote up or down — that was a nonstate 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.

The bill sliced right through the Senate only to be left to die in House Appropriations. So, here was an opportunity to revive it and he jumped at it. Unfortunately, his original bill had a dreaded "fiscal impact" statement attached — then said the cost was "indeterminable." (Odd, though, that no budget amendment was necessary. Besides, what's the cost of writing a letter and making 140 copies?). Still, just having it there scares some lawmakers. And us. (Would it have to go before a bill-killing re-referal to Appropriations?)

Great stuff, actually, this amendment. All about transparency. But legislative transparency. Not spending transparency. One is actual facts about state spending. One is about GA procedures. Not exactly germane. Senator Norment admitted as much on the floor, saying he thinks the House may reject his amendment on those grounds. But no one asked the chamber's presiding officer, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, for a ruling (he cannot make one unilatterally). So the amendment proceeded to a vote and accepted by the body.

Here's where it all stands: Instead of the two bills conformed exactly to each other (which we figured wouldn't happen anyway only because we thought at the outset the Senate would leave HB 2285 alone) and avoiding a conference committee, HB 2285 goes back to the House since the Senate changed it. It must either accept or reject the Senate amendments. Either way, it will be different than SB 936: If it rejects the amendments, it is slimmer than SB 936; if it accepts them, it is larger. Meanwhile, the Senate must accept or reject SB 936, since it was tweaked in the House to meet Appropriations Committee concerns. Since the changes were the patron's, it  won't be a problem. 

Many variables from this last minute twist of the tale: Now that Senator Norment is part author on HB 2285, will he be on the conference committee? If so, how might that affect the dynamics? If the House insists on its version of HB 2285, will it give the Senate an excuse to scuttle it in conference? Or will the meat of the bill survive if Senate conferees insist on the slimmer HB 2285 as a slap? Is this all paranoia? We hope so, but just covering all bases.

To repeat, never have bills that still have not received a single dissenting vote gone through so much tortuous twisting. That said, an important reform still is within reach. Updates tomorrow.

Chaplain Religious Freedom Bill Dies in Senate Courts

This morning the Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated HB 2314 patroned by Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax). This bill would have restored to the Commonwealth's State Trooper chaplains the religious liberty right to pray according to the dictates of their conscience. This restoration of freedom is necessary after State Police Superintendent Stephen Flaherty issued an administrative order that chaplains can no longer pray "in the name of Jesus." This decision has been strongly supported by Governor Kaine's administration despite the pursuant resignations of six chaplains.  In a long and very contentious meeting, HB 2314 was the final bill to be heard. Testimony was offered on both sides. (Video of the debate will be available here tomorrow.) Joining The Family Foundation in speaking in support of the bill was the state Solicitor General Steve McCullough, the Rev. Sherylann Bragton of City of Love Ministries and Dr. Jack Knapp of the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists. In opposition to the bill were the ACLU, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Interfaith Center for Public Policy and a Jewish police chaplain from northern Virginia.  

Opponents used their typical arguments, such as stating that in order to minister to all people one must strip any religious references out of their prayers. The police chaplain stated, "When I don my police uniform I am no longer representing my congregation as a Jewish clergy. Instead I am representing the government." 

While he may choose to leave his particular faith at the door when he ministers to others, to have the state require that one minister in this way is not acceptable. Delegate Carrico continued to remind the committee that the state police policy of censorship was issued not as the result of a single complaint of proselytizing but instead out of an ideological agenda.

Leading the charge to defeat the bill was Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). Instead of outright voting against the bill, Senator Norment chose to do something even more detrimental to the effort being waged by those who seek to uphold First Amendment freedoms — he offered amendments accepted by a majority of the committee in which he inserted "nonsectarian" before each mention of prayer in the bill. As Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) pointed out to the committee and myriad of reporters following this hearing, a plain reading of this new language indicated that the amended bill would enshrine the state superintendent's policy into perpetuity. It was an amendment intended to kill the entire purpose of the bill.

Even after the killer amendment was accepted, the bill died by a majority vote. If you are interested to know where people really stood on this bill, those who voted against the Norment amendment actually support the religious liberty rights upon which this nation was founded: Senators Ken Cuccinelli, Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), Ryan McDougle (R-4, Hanover), Robert Hurt (R-19, Chatham) and Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville). 

Despite the testimony of opponents to this legislation the facts are clear — neither the Constitution nor the Courts of the United States require or compel a faithless, non-religious, nonsectarian prayer at government events. Sadly, as is often the case for some members of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, the facts and the law are but a distasteful distraction. 

Unfortunately, for six state police chaplains, this decision renders meaningless the protection of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which states:

"That all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."