Virginia House of Delegates

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.

Parents Rights Bill On House Floor Tomorrow: Contact Your Delegate!

The House of Delegates votes tomorrow on its version of the Parents Rights Bill and we need your urgent action.

Please contact your delegate by clicking here now and urge him or her to vote for HB 1642.

Late last week the Virginia Senate provided us with a big victory when it passed its version of the bill, SB 908, patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Fredericksburg), by a strong bipartisan 26-14 vote. Now, it's the House's turn when it votes on its version, HB 1642, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City County). Amazingly, the more conservative House has given this bill rougher treatment than the Senate and we cannot take its outcome for granted. In fact, we were not sure it would even get to the House floor after hours of debate late Friday afternoon/early evening in the Courts of Justice Committee (see vote).

This legislation is significant because courts give special deference to "fundamental rights." While our state courts have so far ruled that parental rights are fundamental, they could reverse themselves at any time if the General Assembly remains silent. HB 1642 directly addresses this issue. The threat is real: 24 other states have reduced parental rights to "ordinary."

Some argue that the bill could have the effect of interfering with the state's ability to protect children from abuse or neglect. However, a fundamental right is not an absolute right. Courts have ruled that:

This fundamental right [to bring up children as one sees fit] is not unbounded. Indeed the state can legitimately impose restraints and requirements that touch the lives of children in direct conflict with the wishes of their parents.

In Virginia, it's time to reassert foundational principles such as the fundamental right of parents to raise their children. We have a long way to go still, and tomorrow's vote will determine much of the outcome. So, please contact your delegate.

Two Key Floor Votes In House Tomorrow On Priority Legislation!

Two of The Family Foundation’s highest priorities this year will be voted on in the House of Delegates tomorrow. First is legislation, HB 1442, that would assist home school students in participating in public school sports, often called the “Tebow Bill; and second, HB 1617, is a bill that protects the rights of college student groups to organize according to their beliefs.

Please click here to call your delegate today and urge them to vote in favor of HB 1617 (student groups) and HB 1442 ("Tebow Bill")!

The home school sports bill, patroned again this year by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), would break down barriers that prevent home school students from playing public high school sports by prohibiting localities from joining the Virginia High School League, a pseudo-state/private entity that regulates public school sports. Under the provisions of the measure, localities would not be able to contract with VHSL if they do not allow home school students to participate. Half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provides opportunities to home school students to try out for public school sports.

The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are home schooled. This discriminatory practice must end. New polling on education topics from VCU indicates that nearly two-thirds of Virginians support fairness for home schoolers, a number similar to that found in a Mason-Dixon Poll last year commissioned by The Family Foundation.

HB 1617 is a new proposal. Participating in groups and organizations with missions that match their religious or political beliefs is a longstanding tradition for college students. Unfortunately, some universities around the country have begun enacting so-called 'all-comers" policies, which essentially eliminates these groups from being able to set criteria for members and leaders. Consequently, a student group that is recognized by the university and receives funding or use of facilities cannot have any kind of requirement that members or leaders actually share the beliefs or believe in the mission of the group!

Free association is a foundational constitutional principle, but as we know, those kinds of freedoms are slowly being reduced. Incredibly, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld "all-comers" policies as constitutional, though it did not require universities to have them.

HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), will ensure that the current policy of the majority of Virginia’s universities will continue.

The only opposition to this legislation that we are aware of is the ACLU, which argued against the bill earlier this week in sub-committee, in essence, that it views free association as inherently discriminatory. Despite that, the bill passed subcommittee unanimously. We have worked with representatives of various Virginia universities to ensure that they are not opposed to the bill. However, Delegate Joe Morrisey (D-74, Henrico) today attacked the bill on the House floor and attempted to add an amendment that would have forced religious groups to accept members and leaders who disagree with the groups' views on human sexuality. The House rejected the amendment, but members need to hear from you today!

Affirm That Parental Rights Are Fundamental!

Tomorrow on the Senate floor, and Friday afternoon in the House of Delegates Courts of Justice Committee, Virginia lawmakers will vote on SB 908 and HB 1642, legislation that directs Virginia courts to treat parent's rights as fundamental rights rather than ordinary rights. Click here for the committee's home page, which provides links to the members' contact pages. Urge your delegate to vote yes on HB 1642 to affirm existing fundamental parental rights. Here is the link to the Senate membership's contact page — please call your senator Thursday morning and urge a yes vote and no to any attempt to re-refer it to committee.

This legislation is significant because courts give special deference to "fundamental rights." While our state courts have so far ruled that parental rights are fundamental, the courts could change their mind at any time if the General Assembly remains silent. HB 1642 directly addresses this issue.

The threat is real: 24 other states have reduced parental rights to "ordinary."

Some argue that the bill could have the effect of interfering with the state's ability to protect children from abuse or neglect. However, a fundamental right is not an absolute right. Courts have said:

This fundamental right [to bring up children as one sees fit] is not unbounded. Indeed the state can legitimately impose restraints and requirements that touch the lives of children in direct conflict with the wishes of their parents.

In Virginia, it's time to reassert foundational principles such as the fundamental right of parents to raise their children. While HB 1642, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City County) and SB 908, patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Fredericksburg) read simply . . .

1. A parent has a fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, and care of the parent's child.

2. That the provisions of this act are declarative of existing law.

. . . they would provide a world of protection for parental rights in Virginia law.

After all, authority for children instinctively resides with parents, solely, except in very certain and specific abusive cases where the state has a compelling interest (and meets a certain legal standard). But for years, government institutions and mandates have incrementally moved us to a system where they impart big government's values in place of the family values on which children are raised. The General Assembly has a chance to rectify that this year.

Beat Back Big Government And Protect Property Rights!

Thursday afternoon in the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee, a bill to allow people to receive just compensation when their property is taken by the government in eminent domain cases will be heard. The bill, HB 652, is supported by a broad coalition including The Family Foundation, the Farm Bureau, Tertium Quids (see comment here) and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.  The bill passed the House of Delegates 98-1, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the Senate. The patron of the bill is House Democrat Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) and is co-patroned by several Republicans.  It faces the forces of big government — VDOT and local governments who use our tax money to hire lobbyists to work against our interests — who forced the bill while in the House from the Courts of Justice Committee to the Appropriations Committee with a tactic designed to kill it. There is no doubt they will pull out all the stops in the Senate as well.

But we can beat them in the Senate, too: In the House Appropriations Transportation Sub-committee, Delegate Bob Tata (R-85, Virginia Beach), a senior member of the committee, said he HB 652 came to his attention after he received more e-mail on it than any other bill this session. It shows that actively engaged citizens truly have power!

The bill simply allows property owners to present evidence to juries that they deserve just compensation for land not taken in eminent domain cases, but rendered useless because of the taking of adjacent land.  Right now, people are compensated only for the land taken, not additional land that the taking has rendered unusable. The bill is a complement to the landmark 2007 eminent domain reform law that limits government abuse of people’s property rights.

This is a very fair, very needed and very just bill for families who own homes, small businesses and farms.  If government really needs your land, they should buy only what they need and not try to get more of it on the cheap. This bill costs government nothing — it only provides for a fair hearing as to what property owners are entitled to. Government agencies will retain their right to make their case as well. It’s about fairness! As Delegate Armstrong has said, 'The worst thing the government can do is take your life; the second worst thing it can do is take your property."

If you who think the 2007 law solved all eminent domain problems, a case in Roanoke from two years ago is still in the news (see From On High), where the Burkholder family is losing its small business to the city who wants its land, even though it has no plans for it! So, click here to contact members of the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee and ask them to vote for HB 652 in sub-committee this Thursday afternoon.

Brink's Holdup

Monday afternoon was an interesting day on the floor of the House of Delegates. It involved some tactical maneuvering as members debated Delegate Robert Brink’s (D-48, Arlington) Planned Parenthood license plate bill (HB 1108). It's a bill that would create a specialty license plate that reads "Trust Women, Respect Choice." For each plate sold, the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood would receive $15 of the $25 plate fee. But something happened on the way to the bank — or, rather, the abortion center. Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock) offered a floor amendment to change the specialty plate’s recipient from Planned Parenthood to the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund. The amendment passed by a healthy margin (56-39) over the objections of Delegate Brink and other pro-abortion lawmakers — and much to their chagrin. Then the bill passed, as amended, 77-22. Let's just call it "Brink's holdup."

The Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund was created in 2007 to "support women and families who are facing unplanned pregnancy" and is managed by the Virginia Board of Health. A brainchild of Senator Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell) and Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), the overarching goals of the fund are to provide funding for ultrasound machines, parenting programs, domestic violence/sexual assault education, vocational/academic support, and free home visits by nurses. Sounds worthy. After all, Planned Parenthood is for "choice," right? But Planned Parenthood considers the amendment a devastating blow.

Delegate Brink told the House that Delegate Gilbert’s amendment was unfriendly in nature and urged its defeat. Delegate David Englin (D-45, Alexandria) argued that the change of the fund was unconstitutional, saying that it specifically targeted Planned Parenthood, a misreading of court precedent. Court rulings have said if one viewpoint is allowed on a license plate another viewpoint must also be allowed, but it does not address the funding aspects of the license plates.

Delegate Gilbert responded by saying that the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund was a better fit for the language of the plate ("Trust Women, Respect Choice"). Citing Planned Parenthood’s opposition to pro-woman legislation, including informed consent requirements that do exactly that — trust women — the stated that plate funds, if directed to Planned Parenthood, would not go to an organization in conformity with the plate’s message. Tuesday, when the vote on final passage was up, Delegate Brink made a long pronouncement on the floor that sounded as if he would conclude by asking for the bill to be struck. Instead, he urged its passage, as unfavorable as he was to the amendment, in hopes he can get a better deal in the Senate. So, as it turns out, it really is all about the money for this money making machine.

Ironically, in its initial passage, the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund was backed by both Planned Parenthood and The Family Foundation due to the Fund’s focus on striving to assist pregnant women. So, the moral of this story is, if you're Planned Parenthood, and you want specialty license plate funding, come clean with your message. Because trusting women is the last thing you really mean.

Virginia Health Care Freedom Act Gains More National Attention

The American Legislative Exchange Council is an organization of state legislators that  promotes conservative and free market legislation throughout the 50 state legislatures. Its immediate past national chairman is Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Fredericksbug). Its Virginia Chairmen are Delegate Chris Jones (R-76, Suffolk) and Senator Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield). As a driving force for free market solutions to remedy health care, it provides model legislation to its state legislator membership, research and other tools, and tracks the progress of bills across the country. This year, health care freedom is one of ALEC's  priorities as 30-plus states have introduced such legislation. It's had a busy time in Virginia this session of the General Assembly as five bills protecting the health care freedom of Virginians have advanced rapidly through Mr. Jefferson's capitol and Virginia races to become the first state to stand up to the federal government's over reach into the health care decisions of individuals.

Recently, Christie Herrera, director of ALEC's health and human services task force, spoke with World Net Daily Radio about the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, as the national media continues to pay attention to Virginia's lead as the first state to define the limits of the federal government's powers.

To hear the seven minute interview, click here.

This Just In . . . Planned Parenthood Celebrates Roe V. Wade With Lies About Abortion Center Safety Bill

We just received an e-mail from Planned Parenthood. It's oh, so heartwarming (not!) to see the abortion industry celebrate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, as millions of people in Washington, D.C., today, and elsewhere, mourn the deplorable decision. This is how they celebrate: They send an e-mail alert that lies about the content of HB 393, a bill passed on a bipartisan 16-6 vote yesterday in the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee. It would add three simple, common sense provisions to unregulated abortion centers. The bill, patroned by Delegate Matt Lohr (R-26, Harrisonburg) goes to the House floor for an up or down vote Monday (contact your delegate).

Just as during their committee testimony yesterday, the e-mail is full of lies about the bill. It's a standard liberal tactic: The truth is whatever you say it is, no matter if what you say is no where to be found in the bill. For example, PP makes claims about "the architectural, procedural, staffing and equipment requirements of ambulatory surgery centers" which are not in the bill.

The bill mandates three simple things: licensure, an annual inspection and keeping defibrillators on premises. (There are three defibrillators in the General Assembly Building!) Nothing about building codes or staffing. In fact, in 2008, when this same bill came before the Senate Education and Health Committee, and Delegate Lohr offered the committee a substitute in full view of the committee room that specifically limited the bill to those three elements, the PP lobbyist read from her script, not deviating one second, using rote talking points about a bill 10 years old. It was the same yesterday in committee.  

So, thank you PP, for putting lies ahead of women's safety. Below is the e-mail (apparently sent to non-Virginians as well) in which PP tells its followers how and what to say to lawmakers, word for word.

Dear xxxxx,

Today marks the 37th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Since this time, there have been numerous attempts to chip away at Roe on the local, state, and federal levels. One of the biggest threats to Roe today is decreased access to providers of first trimester abortions. In fact, 87% of counties in the United States do not have abortion providers.

Ironically, members of the Virginia House of Delegates will be voting on HB 393, Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers, on Monday, January 25. This bill is a thinly disguised attempt to impose burdensome and unnecessary regulations on abortion providers so that the provision of services would become prohibitively expensive and thus out of reach for many women in Virginia. 

Please contact your legislator and ask him or her to OPPOSE HB 393.

Send a letter to the following decision maker(s):

Your Delegate (if you live in Virginia)

Below is the sample letter:

Subject: Please OPPOSE HB 393, Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers

Dear [decision maker],

I am writing to ask that you OPPOSE HB 393, Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers. This legislation has little to do with patient safety and is instead intended to decrease access to safe abortion services in Virginia. Abortion care is already provided safely in accordance with state and federal regulatory agencies. Furthermore, the architectural, procedural, staffing and equipment requirements of ambulatory surgery centers are unrelated to the safety of first trimester abortion procedures provided in medical offices.

Compliance with these unnecessary requirements would make abortion services prohibitively expensive to provide and thus unavailable for many women in Virginia.

Please protect women's access to reproductive health care and OPPOSE HB 393.

Virginia News Stand: November 4, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations  The Earthquake Edition

That wasn't a landslide last night, it was a full blown eruption. Unimaginable margins for the top three elected officials in Virginia and a massive pickup in the House of Delegates, shooting the GOP number there from 55 to at least 60, is no mere landslide. It's The World Turned Upside Down. Only four years ago, Bob McDonnell eked out the closest election in Virginia history, by 300-plus votes. Now, he's a national figure.

In a similar way, Attorney General-elect Ken Cuccinelli won re-election to the Senate by 92 votes in 2007. He's always been the number one target for Democrats, liberal victimization and special rights groups, and left-wing special interests. They didn't get him when they had the chance. Now, they must be horrified. 

It's all election coverage and postmortems today, including a late breaking update from Lynchburg where Delegate Shannon Valentine finally conceded to Delegate-elect Scott Garrett, despite his margin of victory being within her right to call for a recount.

Our own Victoria Cobb is quoted in the Washington Post on how Governor-elect McDonnell will govern. That's at the top. We bookend the News Stand with another social issues story: Maine, of all states, protects traditional marriage. It truly was an earth shattering night.  

News:

*Now, the hard part: Continuing to straddle the center and the right (Washington Post)

McDonnell beats Deeds, wins governor's race; now it gets harder (The Daily Press)

McDonnell leads GOP sweep of statewide races (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

GOP reclaims Virginia (Washington Post)

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling wins second term (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Bolling defeats Wagner, holds on to No. 2 post (Washington Post)

Cuccinelli elected attorney general (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Cuccinelli's sound win rounds out GOP sweep (Washington Post)

Republicans retaining control of House of Delegates (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Republicans boost dominance among Va. Delegates (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

UPDATED: Valentine Concedes: Barrett wins in 23rd District (Lynchburg News & Advance)

Liberty delivers votes by the busload (Lynchburg News & Advance)

Republicans keep 17th House of Delegates district on Election Day (Roanoke Times)

Newcomer Robin Abbott beats veteran incumbent Phil Hamilton (The Daily Press)

Sen. Ken Stolle to become Va. Beach's next sheriff (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Exit Poll: Virginia Voters Older, Energized (FoxNews.com)

Governor's agenda flagging, but not ratings (Washington Post)

Analysis:

Analysis: GOP sweep shows policies, not parties, are paramount in Va. Politics (Jeff Schapiro/Richmond Times-Dispatch)

National:

Gay marriage vote fails in Maine (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Today's Celebration, Tomorrow's Work

Today, pro-family Virginians are celebrating yesterday’s election of candidates whom we believe hold to, and will govern by, values you and I share. After months of working hard either for candidates or organizations like The Family Foundation to educate voters, seeing the fruit of that labor is sweet indeed. Exit polling found that evangelicals made up more than one-third of voters yesterday and 83 percent of those voted for the pro-life, pro-family candidates. Those numbers surpass the high water mark of pro-family involvement in any Virginia election to date!

No one can question that our Winning Matters campaign had an incredible effect on voter turnout. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the campaign by donating financially, distributing Voter Guides, Report Cards, holding voter registration drives, and a multitude of other activities. Your efforts made a huge impact yesterday.

But now, the work begins.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as thrilled as you that Virginians sent a clear message to President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (not to mention Mark Warner, Jim Webb and the like) that we reject the debt riddled policies they are pushing. I’m excited that we have a Governor-elect, Lt. Governor-elect and Attorney General-elect who share our values. But I also know that we’ve been here before, in the days after elections, thinking that the work was done only to learn that it was far from over. We need to hold all of our newly elected officials to their promises.

Even with a larger conservative majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, the obstacle that our pro-family, pro-life agenda has faced for several years – the Virginia Senate – stands between us and our goals. While we hope members of that chamber also get the message of last night’s election results, they have two years before they face the voters. If history is any indication, they are hoping that you will have forgotten by then.

The first opportunities to affect the Senate will come with two special elections in the next few weeks. With Ken Cuccinelli’s victory last night, there will be an election to replace him in his Fairfax Senate seat. In addition, Senator Ken Stolle won election to sheriff of Virginia Beach, meaning that there will be an election for that seat as well.

Here is the commitment I’m asking you to make today: we will not stop, we will not rest, until the Senate of Virginia reflects our values! We will not stop working until that chamber joins the rest of our leaders in supporting common sense pro-life and pro-family proposals.

We have the opportunity in the upcoming session to give all 40 members of the Senate the chance to vote on legislation that reflects our values – and if they reject those values again, we have to make them pay the price at the ballot box in 2011.

I also encourage you to pray for all the newly elected candidates. In particular, over the next few months Governor-elect McDonnell will select key advisers, cabinet members and a multitude of officials on boards and commissions. Please pray that he appoints qualified, principled conservatives to those positions, the impact of which will go on well after he leaves office. It is often said that "personnel is policy," so selecting those he will take counsel from in the years ahead is crucial for the new governor.

But today, celebrate. Enjoy a hard fought victory. Then get ready to join The Family Foundation as we look only to the future.

Delegate Chris Saxman Decides To Retire

In an unusual move, Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20, Staunton) today announced he would not seek re-election this November, despite being in the middle of a campaign as the GOP nominee (see Harrisonburg Daily News-Record). The fact that Saxman, 43, first elected in 2001, is considered a rising figure in Virginia GOP circles (he flirted with running for the U.S. Senate in 2006) added to the surprise. He wrote, this, in part, to his constituents today:

The responsibility of representing you requires, and you deserve, a full-time commitment. As I have recently felt pulled to pursue new opportunities to serve my community and our Commonwealth, I believe the time has come for me to step away from my current elected position. As such, I have decided that I will not seek re-election this November to the Virginia House of Delegates.

I've always believed in a part-time legislature and that our Founding Fathers thought it a good idea to leave the State Capitol for a while and recharge. I have had a view of state government from the inside for eight years as an elected representative, and I now have a better understanding of how our government can be improved. However, if you are only looking out, as I have been, you can't always see clearly what needs to be done on the inside.

I continue to have a strong commitment to public service, and I plan to remain active working to advance commonsense conservative solutions and work on issues about which I am passionate. There are many ways to serve, and I am blessed that several new opportunities to continue this service have presented themselves. I know that now is the time to pursue those projects fully, and I look forward to sharing more details about each of these projects in the near future.

For the past eight years, I have been working diligently on issues that I know will help our families, our Commonwealth and our nation. One of these projects is school choice and ensuring that every child has access to the educational options that will give them the best opportunity for success. It is an issue I have fought for in the legislature, and as many of you know, a year ago I launched School Choice Virginia to further our efforts in this arena. I now look forward to taking a more active role in promoting this issue, which I believe I can better do outside of the confines of the legislature.

The last line rings of soon-t0-be-ex-Governor Sarah Palin. But we do look forward to seeing what endeavors Delegate Saxman will embark upon as he tries to advance school choice, something with which we also fully support. In fact, we partner with him in his School Choice Virginia organization. 

Of course, as it is Virginia, and campaigning is perennial, questions quickly popped about who would take his place on the ballot. The Daily News-Record reports it will be 13-year Staunton City Councilman Richard Bell.

Quote Of The Day

Today's QOD has to come from Delegate Kenneth Melvin (D-80, Portsmouth). During the House's organizational floor debate, he objected to the House limit on introducing bills — 15 per delegate during this short session, and referring to Delegate Kirk Cox (R-66, Colonial Heights), said.

"I remember last year when the delegate from Colonial Heights said, 'No one here has 15 good ideas.' And I agree. But . . . . "

Virginia News Stand: December 17, 2008

As one might expect, the state budget dominates state news today and will, most likely, from now and throughout the General Assembly's short session, which commences January 14. We have it covered below, with a few political articles of interest thrown in, as well as an eye-popping commentary by Brian Kirwin from Bearing Drift. And, could there be an upset in the special election for Brian Moran's recently resigned House seat in heavily liberal Alexandria? A Washington Post reporter says it's possible. News:

Kaine would double cigarette tax (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Kaine expected to push for hike in cigarette tax (The Daily Press)

Kaine proposes cuts, cigarette tax increase (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)

Gov. Kaine to propose big cuts, doubling of cigarette tax (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Kaine's budget plan is divulged (Roanoke Times)

Md., Va. Eye Even Deeper Cutbacks (Washington Post)

Richmonder eyes lieutenant governor race (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Lawmakers, Business Leaders Sound Alarm (Harrisonburg Daily News-Record)

Legislators foresee tough fiscal future (Winchester Star)

Norfolk delegate to lead caucus (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Opinion/Analysis:

Bearing Drift on Patrick Muldoon's LG campaign (Bearing Drift)

Tim Craig Sees Potential Upset In 46th Dist. Race (Virginia Virtucon)

Virginia News Stand: December 10, 2008

The communications department had a "business trip" today in the northern reaches of the commonwealth — there are conservatives up there? — so we don't have much of a News Stand today. However, what I have found is good. So, herewith, with some comments by me, is today's News Stand:

News:

Group seeks more recorded votes (This is very interesting to note. Conservatives are split on the issue of recorded House of Delegates sub-committee votes. Some like the idea of killing of bills quickly and quietly, while others preach the good government/open, transparent government reform mantra. It cuts both ways: Neither side likes to go on the record when they can help it.) (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Election 2009: Governor's Race Is Wide Open In Virginia (Polling from Rasmussen shows it tight from the get-go. Also, interesting numbers on various issues, including that Virginians are not dying for a tax increase for transportation.) (Rasmussenreports.com)

Opinion:

The Democratic Culture Of Corruption (From Michelle Malkin. I've been waiting for someone to write about this, and I still may. By the way, she left off her list Eliot Spitzer — prostitution; Senators Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad — Countrywide loan scandal; Representative Robert Wexler, who had no home in the Florida district he represents until recently; and Representative Tim Mahoney — who tried to use government money to keep his mistress quiet; among others.) (GOPUSA.com)

The Friday Line: Ten Republicans To Watch (From Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post blog The Fix. He notes 10 Republican rising stars who may make it big nationally. Two are Virginians, House Republican Whip-Elect Eric Cantor, from the 7th Congressional District, and Attorney General Bob McDonnell, seeking the governor's mansion. Additional interesting picks are two governors Virginia conservatives like very much: South Carolina's Mark Sanford and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal. Those not on the list include Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.) (The Fix/WashingtonPost.com)

Editorial Comics:

"Gov. Rod Blagojevich's Bar Codes" (Steve Breen, Townhall.com)  

"Obama Prepares To Part The Red Sea" (Chuck Asay, Townhall.com)  

"Having Solved The Affordable Housing Problem Congress . . . " (Chuck Asay, Townhall.com)  

Well, Maybe Something

Perhaps the just completed Attempt To Raise Our Taxes Session of the General Assembly didn't produce anything but a big sigh of relief that the House Republicans stood strong in the face of pressure to acquiesce to massive tax increase proposals by the Senate Democrats, Governor Tim Kaine, House Democrats and even from some House Republicans. But perhaps we did get something more after all: A $117,00 bill for running the special session (read the Richmond Times-Dispatch article here). Gee, who do we thank? Even with today's rising prices, 117 large could still fill a fill a few pot holes or repave a street somewhere, right guvna? 

Absolutely Nothing

As the Special Tax Session approached, we posed two poll questions, one of which asked, "What do you think will happen at the Special Tax Session of the General Assembly?" One choice we provided was "Absolutely nothing." As it happened, it won the polling with 36%, while some of the more pessimistic in the crowd thought some tax increase was imminent. As it turned out, the session ended with a wimper and, as some of us guessed — or at least hoped — absolutely nothing got done. Now, it appears His Excellency is jumping on the bandwagon, describing the session to the media with an attempt at hipness: "It was like a Seinfeld episode — a show about nothing." How clever.

But what did he expect? Special sessions are called when there is a consensus and all involved — both parties in both chambers and the executive — have some type of understanding as to what they want to do and agree to do. So he calls for a session, proposes a whopping statewide tax increase during trying economic times, and blames the other side. That's helpful.

If he was serious, there were three issues that — as with most commonsense solutions — are popular and could make great progress toward Virginia's transportation problems.

  1. The House voted 95-0 for HB 6023, an independent, outside audit of VDOT. Governor Kaine's friends in the Senate let it die in committee. How can we spend billions on new projects when we don't have a clue now (or else we wouldn't be in this condition, now would we?). Washington state did an audit of its transportation department and discovered overlap and duplication in planning, projects and bureaucracy (what's new there?); and misplaced priorities. It found simple solutions to correct problems that were thought to cost billions more. The savings? $18 billion — and Washington is a lot smaller than Virginia. (Tertium Quids has more here.)
  2. Senator Frank Wagner (R-7, Virginia Beach) had a proposal to take profits from the Port of Virginia — no tax money involved — and apply that money to transportation. Better still, HB 6055, which originally was loaded with tax increases for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia residents, was smartly amended by Delegate Glenn Oder (R-94, Newport News) with input, our sources tell us, from Delegates Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown) and Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach), to strip out all tax increases and use profits from the Virginia Port Authority and Dulles International and Reagan National Airports. Following the lead of Yankees may be painful to some down here, but New York and New Jersey do this successfully with their port revenue. After all, according to the governor, his mates in the Senate and the big business special interests, we need transportation to help facilitate the growth of our ports, right? These bills also died in Senate committees.
  3. As ever, a transportation fund lock box (HJ 6001). Let's constitutionally seal up that money so it can't be used for, say, new government run baby sitting programs. The governor, like other famous campaign promises, seems content not to act or, if he acts at all, it's counter to his campaign rhetoric. HJ 6001 was changed by the Senate and eventually died.

So, if nothing was done, who's to blame? Why is it "bipartisan" only to increase taxes but a "waste of time" to adopt other measures proven to work elsewhere? Why do liberals, who know so much, are such great problem solvers and are smarter than the rest of us, only know one solution for every problem? Good, commonsense, practical measures were defeated while liberals scream that their tax increase schemes died — even though they got a full debate in the Republican controlled House in contrast to the committee killing Senate actions. Besides, if nothing was done, it's not like we didn't tell you, governor; and with our wallets still intact, we're better off for this "nothing" as well. In this case, nothing is something, indeed: A win for hard-working, taxpaying families and individuals.

The Best Government Is One Not In Session

The Special Tax Session of the General Assembly recessed yesterday after a week in which Governor Tim Kaine's (contact here) massive tax increase plan was defeated 11-4 in the House Rules Committee (including two Democrat votes against) and where Senate Democrats killed two commonsense bills that would not increase taxes while passing its own massive 6-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase — Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw's (D-35, Springfield) bill passed on a party line vote 21-16. Governor Kaine's tax bill was not introduced in the Democrat controlled Senate. But the unapologetic Senate Democrats, despite yet another record per-barrel price of oil, and gas at $4 a gallon, will be hard pressed to look like the party protecting the hard-working little guy and families with stretched budgets. But will the GOP easily pick up that mantle? When they return July 9, we'll learn if the Republicans, as some claim, are going to stage "Son of 3202."

Meanwhile, the Rules Committee passed the gas tax increase without recommendation to the full floor by the same 11-4 vote. Confident of the votes to defeat it there, House Republicans want all House Democrats to go on the record on taxing working people with the 2009 elections in sight.

Of course, the best government is a government not in session (thanks, Lee Brothers), so this interlude in the Special Tax Session gives all citizens an opportunity to contact their delegates and senators while they take up residence again in their home districts. This is the time to let them know what you think of the proposed 35 percent increase in the state's gas tax and any other schemes to separate us from our hard-earned money during these difficult economic times. If you don't want to see your earning and purchasing power erode further, if you want to limit the government to what it already takes from the sale of your home, what you pay at the pump and for a car, and any number of assorted cash grabs, contact them now, before they return after the Independence Day holiday.

You can't have an impact if you don't act, and it's easy to do. Please express how much a burden a 35 percent increase in the gas tax and other taxes will be to your family by clicking here to contact your delegates and senators.

By the way, here's another way you can reach your legislators: WRVA-AM/1140 in Richmond has an online petition to oppose the tax increase. Click here to view it and, if you wish, sign it.

High Water Mark

This afternoon has been the high water mark thus far for the Special Tax Session of the General Assembly. Moments ago, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw's 35 percent increase in the gas tax passed the Senate on a party-line vote of 21-16 (interestingly, two Tidewater Senators, Blevins and Quayle are absent today . . . hmmm). The bill now goes to the House where . . . for two hours this afternoon the House Rules committee drilled the state's transportation secretary and Minority Leader Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) on the Governor's tax hike bill. Republican Delegates Cox, Hogan, Landes, Griffith, and Speaker Howell, really led the charge. The most interesting moments were when Armstrong and the Governor's representative argued that "raising taxes won't affect people's actions" and that they don't believe higher taxes on new cars will reduce car sales or a higher tax on selling a house will make it harder to sell a house. Except when it comes to the gas tax, where Armstrong argued that a higher tax will hurt sales. Republicans were incredulous. 

No vote was taken, delayed by the Speaker until "after the Senate does something." Word is that the entire House of Delegates will get the opportunity to vote on the Governor's package, and on the statewide hike in the gas tax. Neither will be killed in committee. Republicans want Delegate Brian Moran (D-46, Alexandria), candidate for Governor, and others on record. 

There are also rumors that the General Assembly will be back for at least a day or two next week.

If nothing else, this week has proven to be great political theater. No one believes any policy of substance will materialize, but the debates have been great and the competing strategies interesting to see evolve. Only time will tell which strategy will prevail.

Strategery?

Amidst all the rhetoric flying around Richmond today as General Assembly committees began working on actual bills is the reality that this Special Tax Session is much more a exercise in politics than in policy. But that has likely been Governor Tim Kaine's strategy all along.

First, it is clear that Kaine's tax increase plan is dead in the water. He has even been unable to get a patron for his bill in the Democrat controlled Senate. Republicans are slamming him for not having any consensus on a plan before bringing the General Assembly back into town. Of course, the governor knew that nothing was going to pass this week. Look for him to use this and slam Republicans for the next year and a half for blocking a fix for transportation.

Republicans, on the other hand, still don't seem to have a consensus either. While they are opposed to Kaine's plan, there isn't a single Republican plan that a majority seems to support. The House strategy is to do as little as possible until the Senate acts, if at all, on Kaine's plan. Why bring it up if the governor can't even get it through the body controlled by his own party? They are hopeful that they can get some potential statewide candidates on record supporting tax increases by other means. Their internal polls show absolutely no support for tax increases, so they are happy to ride it out.

But, as one Senate Republican told me, "At least that's their strategy today. Who knows what it'll be tomorrow."

Some good news — yet another attempt to raise revenue by expanding gambling in Virginia died in a Senate committee today. 

Breaking: Joint Statement By Family Foundation And Virginia Catholic Conference On Absence Of Pro-Life Safeguards By Budget Conferees

JOINT STATEMENT FROM JEFF CARUSO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE VIRGINIA CATHOLIC CONFERENCE, AND VICTORIA COBB, PRESIDENT OF THE FAMILY FOUNDATION OF VIRGINIA

RICHMOND - With the General Assembly set to approve a budget negotiated by House and Senate conferees, officials from two of the Commonwealth's leading statewide pro-life organizations expressed profound regret over the failure of negotiators to provide conscience protections to the vast number of Virginia taxpayers who strongly oppose paying for life-ending practices.

"Words cannot express the disappointment of pro-family Virginians at the decision of the Virginia General Assembly to continue forcing taxpayers of Virginia to fund the destruction of human life and the most extreme pro-abortion organization in Virginia. The General Assembly had multiple options, including banning funding of Planned Parenthood, embryonic stem cell research or state funded abortions. It is simply astonishing that they were unable to get any of the three amendments added to the budget.

"It is outrageously unacceptable to force Virginia taxpayers to fund abortions, life-destructive research, and the abortion industry's largest provider. Large numbers of constituents have expressed their concerns of conscience to budget negotiators for several years now, but these concerns never seem to come close to making the top of the priority list."

Last month, the House of Delegates approved budget provisions prohibiting state funding of abortions and research that requires either a human embryo to be destroyed or a baby to be aborted. Although the Senate's version of the budget did not include these items, the full Senate voted on February 27 to remove more than $200,000 in state funds that had been designated for Planned Parenthood of Virginia, the state affiliate of the nation's largest abortion provider.

Although all three of these provisions were considered by the budget conferees, none of them were included in their final report.

According to data from the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Medical Assistance Services, state taxpayers have subsidized 322 abortions — almost one every two days — over the last two fiscal years.