Every General Assembly session takes on a different personality, and it’s always impossible to predict what it will be. This year’s theme seems to be, “Absolutely nothing is going to be easy!”
Case in point are two issues that would seem reasonable, and yet have elicited remarkable opposition. On Friday, despite that, both passed their respective chambers, albeit by extremely thin margins.
In the Senate, SB 41, patroned by Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), would provide protections for churches and ministries so they would not have to participate in same-sex weddings. To be honest, when we first read the bill, we didn’t think it did much. In fact, many who supported the bill argued that those entities are already protected by the First Amendment and Statute for Religious Freedom. But in our new culture where sexual liberty reigns, making clear those freedoms seems necessary. But that didn’t stop the opposition in the Senate from insinuating that the bill was everything from discriminatory to a reminder of Virginia’s racist past!
Senator Tom Garrett (R-22, Lousia) challenged opponents to the bill tried to explain basic first amendment concepts – like the fact the First Amendment protects the “free exercise” of faith in the public square. He challenged opponents claims that the bill allows “discrimination” by religious organizations (click the picture below to watch Senator Garrett).
In a bizarre sequence, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) had to help Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam explain a normally routine procedural vote because the LG seemed thoroughly lost and confused. Then, amendments to the bill were offered that were clearly intended as public relations stunts by Democrats. Senator Norment asked the LG to rule if the amendments were “germane” to the bill, another routine action. When the LG ruled they were, in a very rare move, the Senate voted to override the LG’s decision! Over an hour after the debate started and several procedural arguments later, the bill passed 20-19, with Republicans in the Senate holding together.
Almost at the same time, legislation from Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville) that would allow Virginians to vote on a constitutional amendment that could potentially increase the number of charter schools in Virginia was being debated in the House of Delegates. The same amendment passed the House last year, but needed to be voted on again. For several days its success seemed in peril, despite last year’s vote. Several delegates who voted in favor last year were indicating opposition this year, with many going back and forth on how they indicated would vote right up to the moment of said vote. After several days of intense lobbying and grassroots activism, the legislation passed by a slim 52-47 margin.
Earlier this week, somewhat less controversially, the House of Delegates voted 57-42 in favor of HB 518, a pilot public school choice program that would allow some students in failing public schools to transfer to a better performing public school within the same school district.
Delegate Jim LeMunyon (R-67, Chantilly), the bill’s patron, has championed this concept for years. However, because of the incessant pushback by the public education monopoly, Delegate LeMunyon had to reduce the scope of HB 518 to a pilot program for 12 school districts to be decided by the State Board of Education. But it is a good start and he should be congratulated for his perseverance. We will continue the fight for HB 518 in the Senate.
Again, thank you for making your voice heard so far during this contentious session! Tuesday is "Crossover," the last day each chamber can take action on its respective bills.