Tommy Norment

Senator Colgan Dissed By Fellow Dems On Abortion Vote

On a 22-18 bipartisan vote today, the Senate of Virginia defeated a bill that would have removed language protecting taxpayers from funding abortion from Virginia's law regarding Obamacare. The bill, SB 618, was patroned by Senator Mamie Locke (D-2, Hampton). At the same time, the Senate passed SB 617, also patroned by Senator Locke, a bill that would repeal the sonogram requirement in Virginia's Informed Consent Law, on a 21-20 vote, with Lt. Governor Ralph Northam casting the tie-breaking vote. Tie votes aren't always that straightforward and this was anything but, with a controversy that may have ramifications well beyond even this session, ripping at the already stressed traditional Senate collegiality due to the unprecedented mid-session power shift. What followed left experienced General Assembly watchers saying they thought they "had seen everything until today."

After lengthy debate the bill initially went down to defeat 22-18, with Republican John Watkins (R-10, Powhatan) voting with the pro-abortion side, while the pro-life side picked up three Democrats: Senators Charles Colgan and Phillip Puckett (D-29, Tazewell), both generally pro-life, as well as, surprisingly, Toddy Puller (D-36, Mount Vernon) — a reliable pro-abortion vote. 

The Puller vote shocked everyone and, accordingly, observers expected a motion for a reconsideration vote — a procedure that allows someone from the prevailing side to ask for another vote, done as a courtesy for someone who accidentally voted the opposite of his or her intention. It can only be done once per bill unless the chamber gives unanimous consent to suspend the rule. After a few more bills were voted on, Senator Puller made the motion. A one vote flip would preserve the defeat of the bill, so no one expected the vote board to flash what, in fact, shockingly became a 20-20 tie. 

As it turned out, Senator Colgan (D-29, Manassas) the senior member of the chamber, and its President Pro Tempore, accounted for the second flipped vote when he accidentally voted "yes," even though Republican Leader Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) briefly rose prior to the vote to remind senators which bill they were reconsidering. Before long the Senate was in recess with each side plotting its floor tactics. Senator Watkins, being on the prevailing side now, made a motion for the suspension of the rules in order for Senator Colgan — who, by all accounts, was visibly distressed by his mistake and asked for another chance — to vote his conscious.

The vote to suspend the rules was 37-1, with Senator Locke providing the solitary vote necessary to prevent the third vote which would have sunk her bill for good. But make no mistake: The entire pro-abortion Democrat bloc was against the motion, allowing Senator Locke, as the bill's patron, to take the hit in order for the other pro-abortion Democrats to affect the appearance of bipartisanship.

Senator Norment took the floor again. Some anticipated that he would take advantage of Senate rules to kill remaining Democrat bills on the calendar. That is, as today was "Crossover Day" (when all bills originating in the Senate and House must be dealt with by those respective chambers) bills that had not been on the floor for three days needed unanimous consent to get their final up and down votes, or automatically die. He told Democrats that was not the GOP plan, but reminded them in no uncertain terms of the unprecedented nature of their actions. Some took that as an implied threat. We shall see what, if anything, GOP senators have in mind. Some suggested that he should have used that leverage to get a new vote.

TFF President Victoria Cobb issued this statement:

The evidence continues to mount showing that liberals in Richmond are interested only in power and bludgeoning even their own members to deny their consciences. Make no mistake — there were more members of the Virginia Senate today that opposed both abortion bills than supported them. It was only by mistake that one passed. Clearly, among Senate Democrat leaders, orthodoxy to the abortion industry takes precedent over the consciences even of their own members.

SB 617 would remove Virginia's requirement that a woman receive an ultrasound and be offered the opportunity to view it prior to an abortion. SB 618 would have removed the "opt-out" language allowed by Obamacare that protects taxpayers from subsidizing abortion in Virginia's federal health care exchange.

 

 

The Pols Are Out And So Are Their Grades: American Conservative Union Releases Virginia General Assembly Scorecard

The General Assembly wrapped up its 2013 business, officially, April 3, at the conclusion of the "Veto" session. Since then, a flurry of scorecards have been released by several organizations, including the Family Foundation's late last week. Usually released throughout the year to coincide with fundraising galas, elections or other events, many organizations this year dropped their ratings in advance of the Republican Convention this weekend and the June Democrat primary. Today, the American Conservative Union released its third annual Virginia General Assembly Scorecard (click here for complete results). The ACU, founded in 1964 by a coalition of prominent national conservative organizations, is known for its annual Congressional Scorecard, considered the "gold standard" of Congressional ratings. In 2011, it decided to take that success to the state level, with a goal of annual rating all members in each of the 50 state legislatures. That year, it graded five, Virginia being the first of those (this  year it will score 20). Consequently, the General Assembly is the first to be scored three times — more firsts for the Old Dominion.

The ACU Scorecard offers three awards: Defender of Liberty Award, for those who score 100 percent; the ACU Conservative Award for those who score above 80 percent, and the not-so-coveted True Liberal of the Commonwealth Award for those who get a zero — and there are a few of those. However, the number of members in both chambers who scored 80 or higher dropped precipitously, with some who have reputations as conservative stalwarts not even even getting to 80 percent.

The reason? Not only were there several immensely important and substantive votes this year on significant policies with massive ramifications, they were voted on multiple times. For instance, the tax increase bill (HB 2313) was voted on three times (scored twice). An ironic twist is that the House budget, which normally rates as a support because of its pretty tight spending parameters and policy language, was opposed by the ACU when it came out of conference committee with the Senate, specifically because the rejection of the Medicaid expansion was stripped out. That also got a second vote because of a gubernatorial amendment. The Obamacare health insurance exchange also made the list and several conservatives got nicked on that, as well.

The ACU Virginia Scorecard is not only the most comprehensive one of its nature in Virginia — complied annually, with more than 20 floor votes on everything from spending, taxes, education reform, securing voting rights, second amendment rights, religious liberty, right to work, life and marriage, and all else that make up the conservative agenda, it's one the most comprehensive state scorecard in the country, as many legislatures, especially part-time ones, rarely let so many significant votes get to the floor. The ACU only scores floor votes and does not score unanimous or immensely lopsided votes, nor partisan votes, with the exception of significant policy shifting bills.

In a statement released today by the ACU, its Chairman Al Cardenas, said:

On behalf of the American Conservative Union, I am pleased to announce the winners of our 2013 State Legislative Ratings for members of the Virginia General Assembly. For 40 years ACU has set the gold standard for Congressional ratings, and we are now able to offer that same level of transparent information to the voters of Old Dominion so they can hold their elected officials accountable at the state level as well. In our third year rating the Commonwealth, we applaud conservatives in the Virginia General Assembly who continue to fight against higher taxes, against Obamacare and for the rights of the unborn.

The ACU's philosophy in its scorecard system is to track . . .

a wide range of issues before state legislatures to determine which issues and votes serve as a clear litmus test separating those representatives who defend liberty and liberal members who have turned their backs on our founding principles — constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, free markets, a strong national defense and traditional values. The votes selected for our Virginia Legislative Ratings were chosen to create a clear ideological distinction among those casting them.

The Defenders of Liberty Award winners are:

Delegates Rob Bell, Ben Cline, Scott Garrett, Todd Gilbert (TFF Legislator of the Year Award winner), and Margaret Ransone; and Senators Tom Garrett, Jr., Mark Obenshain and Ralph Smith.

ACU Conservative Award winners are Delegates Richard Anderson, Richard Bell, Kathy Byron, Mark Cole, Barbara Comstock, John Cox, Mark Dudenhefer, Matt Fariss, Peter Farrell, Greg Habeeb, Chris Head, Tim Hugo, Sal Iaquinto, Steve Landes, Jim LeMunyon, Scott Lingamfelter, Bob Marshall, Jimmie Massie, Jackson Miller, Randy Minchew, Israel O’Quinn, Brenda Pogge, David Ramadan, Roxann Robinson, Nick Rush, Beverly Sherwood, Lee Ware, Jr., Michael Webert, Tony Wilt, and Tommy Wright, Jr.; and Senators Richard Black, Steve Newman, Richard Stuart, Bryce Reeves, Steve Martin, Bill Stanley, Jr., and Ryan McDougle.

The highest scoring Democrats were Delegates Johnny Joannou and Joe Joe Johnson at 73 and 64 percent, respectively. The both  topped some Republicans, such as Delegate Chris Jones, who scored only 60 percent. Delegate Jones wasn't alone. Speaker Bill Howell only managed to match Delegate Joannou. Senate Republicans saw similar slippages. For example, Senators Jeff McWaters and Frank Ruff, who had scored at least 80 in the first two scorecards, dropped to the low 60s. Majority Leader Tommy Norment and Senator Harry Blevins, who retired recently in mid-term, scored 60 and 57 percent, respectively. Senator John Watkins rated a dismal 48 percent.

Last year, more than 70 Republicans from both chambers scored 80 percent or higher. This year, only 45 did.

The members who earned the True Liberal of Old Dominion Awards are Delegates Delores McQuinn and Roslyn Tyler; and Senators Kenneth Alexander, Janet Howell and Linda Puller.

Quote Of The Day: Norment Nails It (About Himself)

Seconds ago, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg) on the floor, during debate on the tax-increase-and-spend-transportation bill:

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a simple man. I'm a simpleton.

A little while later, he and 24 other senators joined 60 members of the House ,who voted yesterday, to increase our taxes by a 25-15 vote.

Budget-Making Transparency Bill May See Light Of Day, Finally

Persistence is one of the most important ingredients in the legislative process. Defeat of a bill cannot deter a lawmaker, nor even people who support the idea. Some laws languished as remains in the sausage grinder for years before they met a governor's signature, shred to bits by designated "kill sub-committees" designed to ensure they would never see the light of day (i.e., a floor vote). But a good and just idea won't die, at least not quietly, especially if its patron carries on the fight session after session. One such bill, a perennial budget-making transparency bill from Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), may earn its long overdue status as a law this year. That is, may, as in there is a potential sliver of a window crack of opportunity for SB 1129, a bill that would require some disclosure during the crafting of the state budget by the House and Senate conference committee. It passes the Senate year after year but meets its fate in a House Appropriations sub-committee. One can tell the disposition of the respective chambers toward certain bills by the committees to which they are assigned: The Senate sends this bill to Rules each year; the House to Appropriations — a committee more keen to efficiency than eyeballs.

This glimmer of hope comes from a noticeable change in the fiscal impact statement attached to the bill.  Originally a terrific stab at legislative reform, fiscal impact statements were designed to show lawmakers how much a bill would cost so as to reduce the likelihood of pork barrel spending. But years ago they evolved into weapons by the bureaucrats who compile them to kill off needed reforms by placing contrived and/or vague figures on the alleged added cost the bill would incur to government.

They were used in past in attempts to scuttle property rights legislation and transparency for payments to state contractors, both of which eventually became constitutional amendments and/or statutes — and never mind that tax increase bills never have attached to them the impact they would have on families (so we did it for them on these bills as well as on this infamous proposal), while tax reduction bills must have impact statements showing the "cost" to government. A double-double standard.

The bill itself requires the chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees to issue a listing with the budget that provides "a narrative description, dollar amount, and name of the member of the General Assembly who inserted" . . .

» any non-state agency appropriation (supposed to be illegal, anyway),

» any item in the conference report that was not included in a general appropriation bill as passed by either the House or the Senate, and

» any item that represents legislation that failed in either house during the regular or a special session.

Doesn't sound like a big inconvenience, does it? Over the years, however, the impact statements made it sound as if this simple disclosure would bring the entirety of state government to a halt. From the same bill last year (SB 267) the impact statement said:

This legislation could potentially increase the workload demands on House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee staff and may require changes to existing systems to provide this information.

In other words, "time and money, and we have neither," even though specific numbers were not provided. We didn't know taking hand written notes of line item insertions and typing them up required new systems. But this year, the exact same bill offers this backtrack on the impact statement:

This bill would require additional work by the staff of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees. The staff time would be needed to generate the reports required by the bill. Both committees staff leadership have indicated that they can absorb the extra work and any additional costs within their existing operational budgets.

Why the change of heart? Does it portend passage? In the past, the potential cost and time have been the excuse for the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities to table the bill on unrecorded voice votes. But this seems to signal the all clear from the money committee staffs, which have an influence on its members not seen in any other committee. Hopefully, we'll find out when the same sub-committee considers the bill in the next week or two. But we're likely to see it law before we get an explanation. Of the two, we'll gladly take the latter.

Budget transparency is important for accountability of the budget writers by the public, for non-budget writing members to make an informed decision, as well as reigning in unnecessary spending. The more eyeballs on the budget, the less funny business. If there is no funny business, appropriators have nothing to worry about and should pass this bill, finally.

Breaking News: Lt. Governor Bolling Demands Apology From Senate Dems Who Slammed Capitol And State Police In Floor Speeches Today

Lt. Governor Bill Bolling has just released audio of his answer to a question at a news conference today, where he let loose on Senate Democrats who criticized Virginia State and Capitol Police for their handling of Saturday afternoon's Capitol Square pro-abortion protest (see Richmond Times-Dispatch article and pictures). This afternoon, after the Senate concluded its business, several Democrats asked for a return to the "Morning Hour" — the time before bills are debated and voted upon at the beginning of each floor session, where speakers can address any subject at length, from introducing constituents or school groups in the gallery to addressing an issue or bill in general terms. The return to Morning Hour is a pro forma event, but what followed was not. In an unprecedented move, Democrat Senators Chap Peterson, Janet Howell (who woodenly read from a prepared statement) and Dick Saslaw (all of Northern Virginia), and Donald McEachin (from the Richmond area) verbally went after those who protect them on a daily basis, seemingly for purely partisan, crass political reasons — to appease their rabid base.

One member described it as a "disgraceful police presence" and it made us wonder two things:

» What would they have said had there not been a police presence and events got out of control, including physical violence and/or vandalism of Capitol Square?

» What would they have said had it been pro-life activists who rallied and ignored the parameters of their permit — a rally at the bell tower, with the capitol building area off limits?

Neither of those are hypothetical, especially the latter. That's exactly what the pro-abortion rally permit allowed, as all rally permits allow. But going to the mat to preserve the pro-abortion double standard doesn't surprise us. Anything to protect the sacrament of the left — abortion.

While Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) replied in kind to the floor attack with an unusually impassioned response, Mr. Bolling said that in his 16 years at the capitol he's never heard members of the Senate attack Virginia' Law enforcement. Here's a key portion of his statement:

Those comments were over the top. I think those comments were inappropriate and I believe the senators who made those comments owe an apology to Virginia's law enforcement professionals. They owe an apology to the Capitol Police and they owe an apology to the State Police because these guys were doing their job as they saw it, and none of us have a right to put ourselves in their position if we weren't there and if we don't know all the facts and if you don't know what they did. And that's why it is important that you talk to the head of the Capitol Police, you talk to the head of the State Police and get all the facts. ... Everybody has a right to protest. Nobody has a right to violate the law.

Click here to listen to the entire sound byte, which lasts 1:42. 

Primary Thoughts

Now that the dust has settled — not from the earthquake (another aftershock of 4.5 magnitude at 1:00 a.m. with possibly more in the offing) — but from Virginia's General Assembly primary season, some thoughts. First, although my prediction on Monday concerned the general election, it already has taken an embryonic form. It was an exceptional night for conservatives in numerous Republican Senate primaries, yet barely a whisper emanated from the mainstream media about this revolution. Throw in a previously held nomination contest in Hampton Roads as well as some conservatives who were unopposed. it's almost a lock that whether the GOP wins the Senate or not, its caucus, already trending to the right, may become nearly aligned with its House counterparts. But not all media are ignoring this trend or letting it slip them by. John Gizzi at Human Events recognizes it and is one of the few national columnists to trumpet the results.

If the GOP does win control of the Virginia Senate, not only will the caucus have a decidedly different philosophical bent from its past leaders, the likes of Ben Loyola, Jeff Frederick, Dick Black, Bill Carrico and Tom Garrett, among others, joining Mark Obenshain, Steve Martin, Jill Vogel and company, will create a dynamic not ever seen in Virginia history. The possibilities should jump start all ends of the conservative coalition, from social conservatives to limited government advocates, into a turbocharged grassroots effort this fall for an unprecedented opportunity — delivering both chambers of the General Assembly into conservative stewardship.

As for specific highlights: Turnout wasn't great, and there was the earthquake to deal with, but 10 percent turnout was not unexpected. What was shockingly appalling was the 2.5 percent turnout in the Southwestern 21st district. Delegate Dave Nutter took a late gamble by forsaking his safe House seat very late in the process (Roanoke Times), after denying he was interested, and jumped into the Senate race, defeating Tea Party backed Tripp Godsey. He will have to not only gain the Tea Party's enthusiastic backing, but energize a slew of activists to work hard for him to defeat entrenched liberal incumbent John Edwards. In what is still a blue district, Delegate Nutter now has even more work cut out for him.

Speaking of blue districts, now that he's won the 30th district Democrat primary, say hello to Senator Adam Ebbin. More reason than ever to turn the Senate conservative: As left as there is this side of Europe, Mr. Ebbin in the Senate majority will be able to advance every left-wing cause he advocated for in the House, but which met merciful deaths there.

In the hotly contested, newly drawn very red 22nd Senate district, where five Republicans went at it, Louisa County Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Garrett won. Some have asked whether it's a coincidence or irony that the 22nd was the epicenter of Tuesday's earthquake, as hard fought as it was. Bryan Rhode proved good looks, youth and a lot of money can't overcome among GOP voters a perceived slight to then-Attorney General Candidate Ken Cuccinelli (Lynchburg News & Advance).

Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Virginia establishment got crushed by the former state party chairman it ousted. Despite former U.S. Senator George Allen and other establishment Republicans endorsing opponent Tito Munoz, Jeff Frederick won the 36th district easily (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star). Lesson for the party royalty: Opposing Jeff Frederick typically leads to his success. He is the supremo at channeling establishment opposition into intense grassroots insurgencies that make said opposition look clueless.

Another loser — Bearing Drift. Perhaps the most influential and most read Virginia conservative political blog, and very dear friends, its endorsed candidates in the four highest profile and contested primaries took a beating — five if you consider the fact that it endorsed Rhode and Mark Peake in the 22nd, hedging its bets. The winner: Social and grassroots conservatives. In many races, all candidates had certified conservative bona fides and other factors came into play, notably, experience and electability. The latter taking in many considerations, such as residence and community involvement and name identification in the most populous portions of the district, for example.

What about the Tea Party? A surprise during the filing period was that the expected shoe did not drop on many GOP incumbents. Only one, caucus leader Tommy Norment of the 3rd district, received a challenge. Instead, Tea Party backed candidates (really, the old-line movement/grassroots conservatives) went another route, gunning instead for newly redistricted and open seats. By and large, they were successful.

New Gang Of Five In Virginia Senate?

Is there a new Senate "Gang of Five"? J. Scott Leake thinks so. Mr. Leake should know. He was a top insider to the leadership of the "moderate" Republicans who held sway during the years of GOP control of that chamber. The five were: now retired President Pro Tem John Chichester, then-Majority Leader Walter Stosch, then-senator and current Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle, and Senators Tommy Norment and William Wampler. Nothing happened in the Senate unless they decided it would. Now, in his General Assembly Grapevine for Bacon's Rebellion, Mr. Leake, who also is the director of government and public affairs at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, writes that the Senate Democrat majority has a developed a "Gang of Five" of its own: President Pro Tem Charles Colgan, and Senators Roscoe Reynolds, John Miller (a freshman, no less), Phil Puckett and — be sure you're sitting for this — Creigh Deeds. Far from controlling the entire agenda, as the GOP gang did, this one appears to be an alliance certain for budget negotiations only, keeping the rest of their caucus from dragging them into electoral oblivion — Colgan and Miller are D's who represent very Republican areas, while Puckett and Reynolds represent rural and small town areas that easily could swing to the GOP, a fact that has each constantly looking over their shoulders. Deeds, Leake says, has a range of constituents which prompts an unpredictable populist streak.

Increasing the intrigue is the fact that many Senate Dems want to use the budget submitted by former Governor Tim Kaine as the basis for their proposal. But that budget includes reinstating the car tax. The senators above have constituents who would be hurt financially should the car tax be reinstated, an issue within the Democrat caucus. Senator Deeds, according to Leake, now is acutely aware of the repercussions of campaigning on a record of higher taxes.

All this dovetails into the rumors swirling around Capitol Square that other factions within the Senate Democrat caucus are making life dysfunctional for that group, namely Senate members of the Legislative Black Caucus who have their own budget demands. If there truly is all this discord within the majority, it may take more than a gang to sort things out. Or at least a heavily armed gang. Time will tell if this new gang has the clout, or the political arsenal, to whip their colleagues into line.

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

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.

You Had To Be There . . .

We've received a few questions about yesterday's vote in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on HB 2314, the chaplain prayer bill. The most asked question is simple: What was the actual vote on the bill? Unfortunately, because of the game played in committee, its not as simple as that. In fact, the final vote on the bill is in no way a reflection of where individual legislators actually stood on issue of chaplain prayer or religious freedom. Essentially, an amendment to the bill (herein referred to as the "Norment Amendment") added by the committee changed the bill from a pro-religious liberty bill to an anti-religious liberty bill. It changed the bill into what is the current state police policy that censors prayers. Because of the Norment Amendment, we wanted the bill to fail (as did the patron, Delegate Bill Carrico). However, some of the members of the committee (who support religious liberty) voted against killing the bill in hopes that they could fix it later.  Thus, the final vote is very mixed and does not reflect the actual positions of legislators.

Because of the confusion over the final vote, we are counting the vote on the Norment Amendment as the actual position of legislators on the bill (shockingly, this vote is not available online). We do, however, have the entire meeting on video so we have record of that vote.

In a true "you had to be there" example, this is a debate and outcome that can be very confusing. Some legislators who voted to keep the bill alive at the end actually had ill intent for the bill, but my guess is they will attempt to hide behind that final vote. We won't let them.

We have a small sampling of yesterday's debate in the video below: