crossover

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. 

As Crossover Approaches, It's All To Play For

Tuesday is "crossover" day in the General Assembly, the day when work on bills from their respective chambers must be complete. The past two weeks have been long and intense, as you have been able to tell by reading this blog and by the number of e-mail alerts you've received. (If you don't receive our e-mail alerts, you should. They are informative, fun, fast and have received critical acclaim. People tell us that when they read them, they feel as if they were in the committee room. Click here to sign up.)   Several bills in The Family Foundation's bill profile were acted on recently. Here's an update:

SB 1270: Abortion Center Licensing Requirement (Support)

This legislation, introduced by Senator Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester), would have required abortion centers to become licensed, have life-saving equipment in their facilities and submit to one yearly inspection. It was drafted to make abortion centers safer for the women who visit them. In fact, the original bill had numerous regulations, many of which pro-abortion activists claim are onerous and designed put these centers out of business. Anticipating this argument, Senator Vogel stripped down the bill to the three simple requirements listed above.

The fact is that there are several types of medical facilities that are much less invassive, such as podiatry centers; and altogether different types of facilities, such as puppy mills, that have much tougher regulations. Furthermore, all medical disciplines and specialities have oversight by peer review boards, with the notable exception of abortionists.

Finally, the pro-abortion side traditionally argues that the Board of Medicine regulates Virginia's abortion clinics. Fine. Senator Vogel presented SJ 276, which the Senate passed unanimously last year, that slams the Board of Medicine, citing a 1999 JLARC report, that discovered "the Board of Medicine  took too long to resolve cases, did not adequately protect the public from substandard practice by doctors, and did not handle medical malpractice cases adequately," among other charges. When confronted with its hypocrisy and the truth, the pro-abortion side did the only thing it could do — ignore it.

So, this bill, which seemed like a logical and bipartisan issue, failed in the Senate Education and Health Committee by a party line vote of 10-5. So much for "safe, legal and rare." Instead, in Virginia, abortion centers remain an exempted class, untouchable and protected by their overlords in the Senate. Read more about this issue here and see video of the Ed and Health hearing here.

SB 801: "Choose Life" License Plates (Support)

This legislation, from Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), not only would have created "Choose Life" license plates, but would have sent part of the proceeds from the plates to pregnancy resource centers around Virginia. The bill was debated in the Senate Transportation Committee. Of course, the opposition denounced the plates, claiming they are political in nature and out of the purview for recognition.

Even more infuriating, a family practitioner unashamedly attacked crisis pregnancy centers in her testimony. The bill died in committee by a vote of 6-6 with Senators Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) and John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian) abstaining. Senator Blevins was in the room up until just before the vote and then walked out — leaving a "proxy" vote of "abstain" behind.

HB 2579: Informed Consent, Ultrasound Requirement (Support)

Delegate Kathy Bryon's (R-22, Lynchburg) bill would require abortionists to take an ultrasound and allow the woman to view it if she desires before having an abortion. The Family Foundation supports this bill not only because it would give women medically accurate information to aid their decision making, but also with hopes that more women would choose life after clearly seeing that life inside them. The House Courts of Justice Committee reported this bill 15-6. It now goes to the House floor.   

HB 2634: Providing Information on Fetal Pain

Another informed consent bill, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), would require that a woman be told that her unborn child could feel pain during the abortion process and provide her with information on anesthesia for the child. Again, the House Courts of Justice Committee passed this bill 17-5, and the House will vote on it this week. See some of the sub-committee debate here.  

HB 1624, HB 1625, HB 1726, HB 2385, SB 945, SB 1247:  Legislation on "Sexual Orientation" (Oppose)

With homosexual rights advocates feeling emboldened by recent election victories, every effort has been made this legislative season to make sure that the term "sexual orientation" finds its way into Virginia code. It has been attempted in every form from group life insurance and housing discrimination, to making sure that it becomes a protected class under Virginia's human rights laws. Any incremental step they believe they can take, they will. Thankfully, we can report that all efforts to expand the homosexual agenda have failed thus far, with the exception of SB 945 (life insurance). 

These battles are far from over and other skirmishes over other issues undoubtedly will materialize. If ever it was all to play for, this year's second half is it.