RECONVENED SESSION

The General Assembly reconvened last week to deal with Governor Northam’s amendments to legislation that was passed during the regular session. This was an unusual session, as we did not meet in the House Chamber, but under a tent on the lawn of the Capitol in order to maintain social distancing. For the first hour or so, we were serenaded by the sound of freedom, protesters honking their car horns calling on Governor Northam to reopen Virginia’s economy and let people go back to work.

The session started out with Speaker Filler-Corn and the Democrats pushing a change to House Rules to allow remote voting for the House, instead of gathering to meet. Evidently the Speaker intended to pass this rule change, then adjourn, and schedule an “online” session to actually vote on legislation later. This would have required the Senate and perhaps the House to come back on another day to wrap-up the session, which made no sense to me. We were already gathered, there was no reason not to vote and get our work done while we were there.

Keep in mind that this has never been done before, the software to do this has not been tested for reliability or security, and there was no clear plan to allow the public to observe this electronic session. As someone who worked in systems testing and analysis for more than two decades, I can tell you systems hardly ever work as advertised the first time you try to use them. Fortunately, Republicans defeated this proposal and session proceeded has close to normal as could be, given the circumstances.

As it turned out my experience with technology proved true, it took an hour and a half for technicians to get our new, outdoor voting system to work. Our first several votes had to be done via roll call. I can only imagine what a mess an “online” session would have been; probably would have ended up with lawsuits for the lack of transparency or inability of Delegates to fully participate.

Once we got all the bugs worked out of the system, we managed to complete our work. Below is a brief summary of our actions.

STATE BUDGET
The Governor made numerous changes to the state budget, primarily rolling back new spending initiatives and deferring many construction projects in order to reduce spending. This was required due to a significant drop in tax revenues caused by Governor Northam shutting down much of Virginia’s economy in response to the COVID-19 virus. In addition to these amendments, the Governor has the authority to further reduce spending to keep the budget in balance.

Governor Northam has indicated he plans to call a special session of the legislature in August or September to make further changes to the state budget, once we see how badly revenues have been impacted.

BAD BUSINESS BILLS
During session, Democrats forced through a several bills that increased costs on businesses and government, which will make it more difficult and costly for businesses to create new jobs or even stay in business. These bills included collective bargaining, increasing the minimum wage, project labor agreements, and new taxing authority. Acknowledging that these bills are bad for business, the Governor delayed their effective date by a few months, hoping to give businesses a little extra time to recover from the current economic shutdown before imposing additional burdens on them. Instead of just delaying these bills, he should have just vetoed them.

PUBLIC SAFETY
Governor Northam submitted, and Democrats approved, amendments to expand and accelerate the eligibility of criminals for parole and early release from prison, including violent felons and sex offenders.

OTHER AMENDMENTS
Governor Northam amended the “Driver’s Privilege Card” for illegal aliens to remove the required language “Driver Privilege Card: not valid ID for voting or public benefits purposes.” This will make it easier for illegal aliens to use the card as an official ID, including for voting. Democrats passed this amendment over the objections of Republicans.

One of the good things we did during session was pass legislation to make it easier for employees and small businesses to form healthcare associations to offer insurance to their members. Governor Northam’s amendment would have required the legislation pass again next year before it would become law (a reenactment clause). I believe this was really an attempt to kill the bill without vetoing it; he wants to force people to use the Obamacare exchanges, which are just too costly for many. His amendment was defeated, so now he has the option to veto or sign the legislation.

Another amendment that was defeated would have moved May city and town elections to November, despite the fact that absentee voting for those elections is already underway and thousands of votes have been cast. His amendment was opposed by nearly all elected officials in the affected cities and towns.

SESSION SUMMARY

The 2020 Session of the General Assembly has come to a close, wrapping up 5 days late due to extended budget negotiations. This year the Democrats took control of the legislature for the first time in over two decades. While we did manage to defeat or moderate some of their more extreme initiatives, this session saw a number of historic changes for Virginia.  I fear they are moving the Commonwealth in the wrong direction.

Below is a summary of legislative actions this session.  All bills that passed have been sent to the Governor for his action.  We will reconvene in April to deal with any vetoes or amendments made by the Governor.

STATE BUDGET

A new state budget was adopted for the next two years. In short, the budget increases Virginia’s total spending by nearly 20% – a total $21 Billion increase. It includes new taxes and fees with many new commitments. I am concerned that such spending will not be sustainable during an economic downturn, which appears to have already started due to actions in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.  I would not be surprised to have to deal with a big budget shortfall the next time we go into session.

The budget continues the initiative to freeze tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities to help keep education affordable and accessible. It includes money for pay raises for state police and other state employees.

The budget provides funds for teachers to receive a 2 percent raise the first year and 2 percent the second year. It includes more than $1.6 billion in additional funding for our K-12 education system. Average per pupil spending has now fully recovered and surpassed the levels before the Great Recession.

The pay raises are contingent on revenue projections in the budget, which I believe are overly optimistic now.

In addition, it deposits $520 million to Virginia’s reserve day fund. This brings our total cash reserves to $2.2 billion, which we may have to use in the near future.

TAX HIKES

During the past year, Virginia’s tax revenue grew at a record pace, but that was still not enough money for Democrats. The new majority has enacted new taxes, including a significant increase it the gas tax, that would bring in more than $600 million over the biennium.

GUN CONTROL

The subject that generated a lot of interest this session was gun control. Democrats had signaled their intention to introduce a series of new gun control measures as early as last summer.

Fortunately, the worst of these measures failed, thanks to the voices of tens of thousands of Virginians who let the Democrats know their bills went too far. Bans on common sporting rifles, standard capacity magazines, and other accessories will not become law this year. Nor will legislation that would allow local governments to put additional restrictions on firearms not authorized in state code.

Bills that will become law are background checks for any firearms sale, including private transactions, as well as a “red flag” law that will allow the seizure of firearms from those alleged to be a dangerous.  Virginia’s “one handgun per month” rule will also return, but with the same exemption for those with concealed carry permits as existed before 2012.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

Under current law, local governments come to agreements with employees on an individual basis. With the new legislation, public employees can form unions and negotiate as a group. Unlike the private sector — where a bad deal with a union comes out of the company’s bottom line — a bad deal with public sector unions comes out of the pockets of taxpayers.

While the impact won’t be immediate, the long-term effect will be higher real estate taxes and bigger mortgage payments for homeowners around Virginia.

BAD BUSINESS BILLS

Virginians were rightly proud last year when CNBC found Virginia to be the Best State for Business in the nation.  But that ranking — along with thousands of jobs — is in serious jeopardy thanks to legislation passed this session. Democrats forced through a job-killing increase in the minimum wage, with the goal of stepping it up to $15 per hour over next the few years. Business owners will be forced to cut jobs and raise prices to pay the employees the new government-mandated wage.

They also made major changes to the way workers compensation insurance is handled in Virginia, driving up the cost of coverage for businesses. Those costs will cause prices to rise, taking more money out of the pockets of hard working Virginia families.

Another law was a bill allows employees of subcontractors to sue a primary contractor if the subcontractor doesn’t pay them.  Even if the main contractor has paid the subcontractor, they’re still on the hook for wages not paid by the subcontractor, though they have no real control over the subcontractor.  This is equivalent of making someone responsible for someone else’s debts.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Democrats spent a great deal of time talking about public safety but introduced and passed a number of bills that will make our communities less safe.

Legislation passed that would give people like Lee Boyd Malvo, the Beltway Sniper, a chance at parole. They also pushed legislation that would make it easier for drunk drivers to get back on the road, and defeated legislation to send those who commit felonies with guns to prison for longer terms. Other bills that would have brought back parole for all Virginian felons were ‘carried over,’ meaning they will bring it back next year.

Thieves got a cost of living adjustment, as Democrats voted to raise the felony larceny threshold to $1,000.

ENERGY

One area where Democrats spent a great deal of time arguing among themselves is the “Virginia Green New Deal,” which would spend billions of dollars to close virtually every power plant in the Commonwealth and replace them with more expensive and less reliable solar and wind farms.

They eventually settled on a slightly-less extreme version that requires Virginia to be a “carbon neutral” by the year 2050, which means that all natural gas and coal power plants must close in the next 30 years. Under this legislation, your electric bill will increase by 25 percent or more in the coming years.

ABORTION

Democrats moved forward in their quest to roll back longstanding protections for women seeking an abortion and ensure an informed decision is being made about an abortion. Additionally, under these new policies, those who may perform an abortion has been drastically expanded, to include those who are not doctors, and facility health and safety standards have been repealed.

ELECTIONS

First some good news, last year I sponsored an amendment to Virginia’s Constitution to establish an independent, bipartisan commission to draw legislative and congressional district lines after the census is completed this year.  Basically, it would take away the ability of legislators to draw their own districts.  Since it amends Virginia’s Constitution, it is required to pass twice and then be approved by the voters in November.

The proposed amendment passed last year with strong bipartisan support (83-15 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate) and most candidates of both parties pledged to support it during last November’s General Assembly elections.

While it easily passed the Senate with bipartisan support this year, many House Democrats, who voted for it last year, changed their minds, now that they are in control, and tried their best to defeat it.  House Republicans were eventually joined by only 9 Democrats to pass the amendment.

Even after the vote, the Speaker of the House took the unprecedented action of not sending the amendment back to the Senate, normally a technical formality performed by staff, until she was forced to do so by the Senate. No doubt she wanted to hold the amendment in the House and try to force another vote on it should some supporters be absent.

It should on the ballot for the voters to decide this November.  I want to thank the 9 Democrats who withstood tremendous pressure from their leadership to keep their promise to the voters.

Another positive is that we were able to defeat a Democrat lead effort to give control Virginia’s Presidential Electoral Votes to voters in other states, the so called popular vote compact. It passed the House with only Democrats voting for it, but was continued for further study by the Senate, so it may be back next year.

The bad news, Democrats gutted the voter ID requirement, and passed Election Day voter registration, so someone not registered to vote can walk into a precinct on Election Day, without ID, register and then vote with no way to validate their information.

OTHER LEGISLATION

A bill has passed to allow 5 Virginia cities (Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond) to open casinos if a local voter referendum passes.

Decriminalization of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana passed. There will be a fine of $25 on the first offense and the record can be expunged if dismissed by the court.  Legislation to study how to legalize and regulate it also passed.

It will now be up to cities and counties what to do with statues of Confederate soldiers. They will no longer be required to get approval from the state to remove them.

CORONAVIRUS INFORMATION

I wanted to update you on what we currently know related to the COVID-19 virus in Virginia.  The Governor has issued a state of emergency for our Commonwealth. To help slow the spread of the virus, the Governor ordered all schools to be closed for at least two weeks and has banned public gatherings of over 100 people.

Below are helpful links to stay updated on developments related to COVID-19:

Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH): http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/surveillance-and-investigation/novel-coronavirus/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Everyone must prepare for some disruption to our lives at work and at home. We must also remain calm and set an example for our families, friends, and neighbors.

In addition to limiting public interaction, there are a few common-sense steps to help keep you and your family safe and slow the spread of the virus:

• If you are sick, stay home.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not hands) when coughing or sneezing.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

• Avoid contact with sick people as much as possible.

• Avoid non-essential travel.

• CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a healthcare facility).

• Stay up to date with the latest information. Visit www.VDH.virginia.gov/coronavirus.

THE ENVIRONMENT

A clean environment is important to everyone. We all want and need clean air, water, and soil. I am pleased to say that the US and Virginia have taken concerted action to clean up the environment in recent decades, which has resulted in a reduction in emissions and in general a cleaner environment than we had when I was growing up.

The Democrats are advancing a package of bills which are purported to reduce emissions and climate change; Virginia’s version of the “Green New Deal”. They would require increased usage of alternative energy sources, like wind and solar, while restricting or phasing out the use of fossil fuels. I am concerned that this legislation will significantly increase the costs of electricity and fuel for no real benefit.

It would cause electric bills to increase by 25 percent or more. This would not only hit families struggling to pay their bills each month but would increase the costs of all goods and services, like groceries and clothing, since all businesses would have to pay increased energy costs to produce and deliver their products.

These bills have been motivated by predictions of eminent disaster if we do not take immediate action. I have been hearing dire predictions of climate calamity for nearly 40 years; none of these predictions have come true and I doubt the current alarmist predictions will be realized as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe we should do what we can to maintain a clean environment. In fact, we have been taking action without wrecking the economy. The US leads the world in reducing harmful emissions. From 1970 to 2017, aggregate US emissions of primary air pollutants have declined by 73 percent. Ambient concentrations of these pollutants have declined an average of 64 percent since 1990.

Virginia is doing its part in this area as well. From 1990 to 2017, Virginia’s emissions of key pollutants have decreased across the board:

* 61 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx)
* 89 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide (SO2)
* 68 percent reduction in carbon monoxide (CO)
* 60 percent reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
* 35 percent reduction in fine particulate matter (PM2.5)
* 30 percent reduction in coarse particulate matter (PM10)
* 51 percent reduction in ammonia (NH3)

Additionally, from 2005 to 2016, Virginia’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decreased by almost 20 percent despite increasing population and energy demands.

While the US and Virginia are doing our part, unfortunately, other nations are not. Countries, like China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and other developing nations continue to dump more pollutants into the air and oceans with little regard for the consequences. Real global progress will be difficult until all nations work together.

The requirements dictated by Virginia’s “Green New Deal” will do significant harm to our economy without making any real difference for the climate. It will increase unemployment and make it harder for families struggling to pay bills, especially the poor. All the while, other countries will continue to pollute. The net effect will be a poorer Virginia, and no change in global climate.

Virginia and the US will continue to do our part to reduce emissions and clean-up the environment, but there is no need to wreck Virginia’s economy and transfer jobs to other countries for no benefit to the environment or climate.

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation has been a top priority for me ever since I was elected. We have significantly increased funding and resources going for roads and transportation; many of the ongoing road projects you see in the region, especially on I95, are the direct result of these efforts. However, our area remains a popular place for people to move to, and this has overwhelmed the transportation infrastructure, so more needs to be done.

NEW TRANSPORTATION PROPOSAL
The latest effort to deal with our transportation problem is HB 1414. I have numerous concerns about this legislation and doubt that it will actually get more resources to reduce gridlock on our roads. The legislation is very complex (convoluted may be a better description) and establishes numerous new funds as well as raising taxes. Here is a brief summary of the legislation (the summary that was provided to legislators was 11 pages long).

It would raise the gas tax 4 cents per year over the next 3 years and then the tax would automatically increase based on Urban Consumer Price Index (CPI-U), as published by the U.S. Department of Labor (it would not decrease, even in the unlikely event that the CPI-U decreased, it only allows increases). I am not a fan of tax increases, especially automatic ones. If taxes need to go up, elected officials should be accountable and have the courage to vote on it and not hide behind automatic increases.

It does propose reducing registration fees and going from annual car safety inspections to once every two years.

In my opinion, the worst part of the legislation is it adds new several transportation related funds, funding streams, and layers of complexity to the process. This gives me concern about the actual amount of money that may end up going to roads, how much will be syphoned off, and the time needed to navigate the additional bureaucratic steps.

A big part of the current problem with transportation is all the bureaucratic hurdles that already exist and must be cleared before a road project can start. Not only do projects have to be reviewed and approved by VDOT in Richmond, but major projects must also be approved by several Federal agencies such as the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Highway Department. It can take years or even decades for a project to jump through all the hoops needed to proceed. Instead of adding more steps and complexity to the process, we should be simplifying and streamlining.

PAST ACTIONS ON TRANSPORTATION
In recent years the General Assembly, spearheaded by the House of Delegates, has significantly increased transportation funding to try to address traffic issues. Here is a brief summary of some of our efforts to improve transportation.

In 2005, we increased transportation funding by more than $ 1.4 Billion, the largest increase in nearly 20 years, including $ 850 million in funding to reduce congestion on major thoroughfares like I-95. The following year, an additional $ 568 million was directed to transportation.

During the 2007 session, the General Assembly financed largest transportation investment in two decades by providing nearly $ 500 million in ongoing, new transportation funding and authorizing $ 3 Billion in transportation bonds.

In 2008 we restored $ 180 million in transportation funding that former Governor Kaine had diverted to other programs.

Soon after coming into office in 2010, Governor McDonnell ordered a performance audit of VDOT that revealed $ 1.4 Billion in previously authorized funds that were not being spent on needed highway maintenance and new construction. These dollars were collected and redirected to long overdue transportation projects.

In 2011, we passed legislation to authorize nearly $ 4 billion in bond funding for transportation that jump-started over 900 projects around Virginia.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed a variety of fee and tax increases to raise over $ 1.3 Billion in additional funds annually for transportation. Also, other fees and tax increases were imposed on Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise funds for critical regional projects.

In 2016 we increased transportation funding by nearly $ 1 Billion and also passed my House Bill 97 which directed the Department of Transportation to conduct an evaluation with the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to address traffic congestion on the Interstate 95 in our area, with a goal towards reducing congestion on I-95.

Last year I sponsored House Joint Resolution 581 to direct the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) and VDOT to develop a strategic plan to improve I-95 from our area north to the Beltway. Making significant improvements to the corridor will be expensive and take years, but VDOT should have a plan in place so that they can begin working on it.

CROSSOVER

This week was crossover at the Virginia General Assembly, marking the halfway point of the 2020 session. This is the week we send the House Bills that passed over to the State Senate, and the Senate sends their bills to the House.

There was a definite philosophical difference between Republicans and Democrats, as bills were passed on the House floor, I cast an unprecedented number of no votes. House Democrats passed many pieces of legislation that will have a detrimental impact on our Commonwealth and I have highlighted some below. These bills must pass the Senate before they will become law.

BUSINESS, JOBS, AND THE ECONOMY
In 2019, Virginia was rated America’s Top State for Business. Many of this year’s bills will make Virginia less competitive with surrounding states in attracting new business, decreasing the potential for economic growth and jobs. One bright spot, repeal of “Right to Work” HB 153 was defeated in committee.

One of the most significant bills to pass is HB 395 which would raise the minimum wage across Virginia to $15 an hour by 2025. Because of this huge increase in labor costs, jobs will be consolidated or eliminated. It will not only impact the small businesses but will lead to fewer job opportunities for those just entering the workforce and unskilled labor.

HB 534 will impose a 5-cent fee on every plastic bag used when shopping unless you are buying meat, ice cream, drugs or liquor.

HB 582 repeals the ban on collective bargaining for public employees. This is the first step in unionizing public employees – if that ever happens, stand by for potential strikes and increased taxes. HB 833 would require government contractors to pay the prevailing (union scale) wage, even if they are non-union businesses, significantly increasing costs and reducing competition.

Other bad for business bills will make it easier to businesses to be sued, increases regulations and costs on businesses.

PUBLIC SAFETY
HB 33 expands eligibility for parole to hundreds of violent criminals and is the first step towards repealing Virginia’s truth in sentencing law that was adopted in the 1990s. Since that law was passed, our crime rate has declined – many crimes are committed by repeat offenders. In fact, Virginia currently has the 48th LOWEST crime rate in the nation and the lowest recidivism rate – crimes being committed by repeat offenders.

HB 34 that would make it more challenging to prosecute drunk drivers. Democrats also led the initiative that doubles the grand larceny threshold from $500 to $1000 (HB 995).

HB 961 prohibits the sale, and transport of so called “assault” firearms and the possession of magazines that hold more than 12 rounds. The US had a similar nationwide ban in place for a decade and it had no measurable impact on crime. All this will do is turn thousands of law-abiding Virginians into criminals overnight.

HB 812 reimposes the “one gun a month” limitation on handgun purchases. HB 264 would make it more difficult to obtain a concealed handgun permit.

ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Democrats passed a slate of legislation that will implement Virginia’s version of a “Green New Deal,” including HB 528, HB 1526, HB 1451, and HB 1450. The overall effect of these bills will be to significantly increase energy cost. This means your electric and heating bills will be going up for no real benefit to the environment or climate. This cost increase will have ripple effects throughout the economy.

Virginia and the country are already doing our part to reduce harmful emissions. From 1970 to 2017, the aggregate US emissions of primary air pollutants declined by 73 percent. Ambient concentrations of these pollutants have declined an average of 64 percent since 1990.

Virginia is doing its part in this area as well. From 1990 to 2017, Virginia’s emissions of key pollutants have decreased across the board. Additionally, from 2005 to 2016, Virginia’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decreased by almost 20 percent despite increasing population and energy demands.

While the US and Virginia are doing our part, unfortunately, other nations are not. Countries, like China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and other developing nations continue to dump more pollutants into the air and oceans with little regard for the consequences.

RELIGIOUS PROTECTIONS
HB 1663 places special protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into Virginia law without providing protections to churches, religious organizations, and schools whose faith may prohibit such behavior. While people are free to live their lives as they wish, that does not give someone the right to impose their beliefs on others. I am concerned that without religious protections, this bill may lead to lawsuits and prosecution of religious organizations and individuals for simply living by their sincerely held religious beliefs.

IMMIGRATION
The Democrats passed legislation that would allow illegal aliens to obtain a driver’s license (HB 1211). HB 1150 eliminates the requirement that jails, and prisons determine the citizen status of the inmates, so that Federal immigration officials could be informed whenever an illegal alien commits a crime in the Commonwealth and be turned over for deportation. HB 1547 will allow illegal aliens to qualify for in-state tuition at our state colleges and universities.

These bills are steps in Virginia becoming a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants.

ELECTIONS
Democrats have pushed through several significant changes to our election laws which I am concerned will disenfranchise voters and make election fraud easier.

HB 201 will allow someone to register to vote and vote on Election Day, without the opportunity to verify their eligibility or residency. There is also no way to check to see if the person already registered and voted at another precinct.

HB 19 guts the voter photo ID requirement by allowing someone without an ID to just sign a statement and vote.

HB 177 would cast Virginia’s Electoral Votes for President to whichever candidate receives the most votes nationally regardless of how Virginia voted. The founders created the Electoral system to make it harder for big states to dominate smaller states. This would basically give control of Virginia’s votes to California and New York.

As I said, these bills must still pass the State Senate and be signed by the Governor before becoming law, so there is a chance that they may be defeated.

RIGHT TO LIFE

ABORTION SAFEGUARDS
Last week, Democrats gutted years of Republican-backed safeguards for women related to abortion. The legislation rolls back long-standing laws designed to protect women seeking abortions and ensure that they have the knowledge and resources they need to make an informed decision before making an irreversible choice. Among the safeguards removed were:

• Safety standards designed to protect women in the event something goes wrong.

• Standards that required a trained physician to perform an abortion, not a physicians assistant or other worker with less training.

• A 24 hour waiting period to ensure that women understand the procedure.

• Significant portions of the informed consent law were removed, which ensured women had all relevant information about abortion.

During the floor session, Republicans offered substantive amendments to the legislation. The amendments were two-fold:

• One would ensure that no abortion provider in Virginia could profit from the trade in fetal tissues or body parts obtained through abortion.

• The other amendment would require any infant born alive during an attempted abortion receive immediate lifesaving care.

Democrats responded by ruling the amendments “not germane,” or unrelated to the bill, rather than vote on them. Speaker Filler-Corn then declined to explain her ruling. There’s a distinct pattern developing: Democrats will do whatever they must to avoid debating though issues.

For years, Democrats have said abortion should be between a woman and her doctor. Now, it’s between a woman, her nurse, a nurses aide, etc…

ASSISTED SUICIDE
Some Democrats are also supporting legislation to make suicide legal and specifically to legalize assisted suicide. The bill to legalize suicide appears to be moving forward, while the assisted suicide legislation is stalled in committee for now. I oppose both bills because they devalue life and are the first steps toward euthanasia.

Assisted suicide undermines the doctor patient relationship, endangers vulnerable people such as those experiencing mental health issues or crisis, the disabled, and elderly. It further empowers insurance companies to make life and death decisions (paying for “suicide” is cheaper than paying for treatment).

The legislation also prohibits the Virginia Board of Medicine from disclosing information regarding assisted suicides. This begs the question, what are they wanting to hide?

Other countries that adopted assisted suicide have gone down the slippery slope to euthanasia. The practice has expanded to newborns, children, the mentally ill, and those suffering from dementia. In these cases, the decision to commit “suicide” is made by others.

As long as I serve in the legislature, I will continue to stand for life.

GUN CONTROL

Last week kicked off with the largest rally I have ever seen at the Capitol. More than 22,000 people gathered to show their support for the 2nd Amendment. The rally was prompted by a slew of gun control proposals being advanced by the new Democrat majority.

There is a fundamental difference between most Democrats and Republicans on what needs to be done to reduce crime and keep people safe. Republicans tend to believe that people are safer if they can possess a gun to defend themselves and others; Democrats tend to think banning guns will keep people safe.

I may be biased, but evidence proves the Republican point. Localities with strict gun control laws tend to have higher violent crime rates than those that do not.

Someone with criminal intent will not obey gun control laws or gun free zones. In fact, most mass shootings have occurred in gun free zones. This is because the perpetrator can be reasonably sure that they will be the only one with a gun; giving them free run to inflect as much damage as possible before police arrive.

These situations usually end when the shooter is confronted by another armed person, normally law enforcement. One way to limit the loss of life is to allow law abiding citizens to carry a gun to defend themselves and others. That can greatly reduce the time that the shooter has to inflict harm.

A good example of this was a recent church shooting in Texas. An individual opened fire during a church service killing two. Fortunately, several of those in attendance were armed and killed the shooter. The quick response limited the number of victims, it would have been much worse if the church had been a gun free zone.

While we frequently hear about the criminal use of guns in the news, we rarely hear about the defensive use of guns to protect life and prevent crime, which is estimated to be 2.5 million times a year nationwide. Making it more difficult for law abiding citizens to carry a gun will actually increase crime, not reduce it.

GUN CRIME
Back in the 1990’s, under the leadership of Governor George Allen, Virginia passed several tough on crime laws including the abolition of parole. Since then, our violent crime rate has declined. Virginia has the second lowest crime rate and the lowest rate of recidivism — offenders committing crimes again — in the nation. In fact, gun violence in the US is approaching a three decade low.

Gun violence statistics include suicides as well as criminal activities. More than two thirds of all Virginia gun deaths are suicides. That does not make any death less of a tragedy, but what Democrats propose will not help. What will help is better mental health treatment.

At the same time that Democrats want to make it harder for law abiding citizens to carry a gun, they are working to soften sentences for criminals and bring back parole — which will let dangerous criminals back onto the streets before they finish their sentences.

EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT (ERA)

Session has been moving along much slower than usual, I think this is due to the new, inexperienced leadership of the House. Normally by this time, we have taken action on dozens of bills, but up to this point, the only legislation that we have actually passed is the purported ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which actually expired in 1982.

CURRENT LAWS ON EQUAL RIGHTS
Given the misinformation that has been put out in recent years on the status of equal rights and the ERA, I think it is worthwhile to share the current state of law regarding equal rights.

Women and men have equal protection under the US and Virginia Constitutions. Courts have ruled that both women and men have full claim to equal rights through the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; this is why VMI was ordered to begin admitting women more than 20 years ago. Virginia’s Constitution also prohibits discrimination based on sex.

Additionally, legislators have worked to address equal rights on both the state and national level, there are at least 50 laws in the Virginia Code and more than 125 Federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex, including employment and equal pay protections. Equal pay has been Federal law since 1963 and in Virginia code since 1974. Any employers who are discriminating on pay between women and men for the same work, are breaking both Federal and State law.

EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Congress submitted the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the US Constitution in 1972 with a seven-year deadline for ratification by the states. The amendment appeared to be moving quickly towards adoption with 35 states ratifying it when concerns were raised about potential unintended consequences, including the loss of religious liberties and privacy rights.

The ERA language was very broad and allowed no exceptions. The way it was written could prohibit separate facilities for women and men in public buildings as well as separate programs and teams for girls and boys in public schools. This could not just impact restrooms, but dormitories and showers at public universities, prisons and jails, the military, programs and scholarships designed to help women and girls, etc… Also, the ERA language gives Congress the authority to implement it. So, our rights could be at the mercy of the changing political whims of Congress. Once these concerns were raised, not only did no new states ratify the amendment, but 5 states rescinded their previous ratification. Virginia’s anti-discrimination amendment includes language that fixes a lot of these problems by simply saying that separation of the sexes shall not be considered a violation.

As the original 1979 deadline approached, Congress extended the deadline to 1982. The extension was legally questionable and subject to a court challenge; however, when the second deadline passed, Congress declined to extend it again. This effectively withdrew the amendment from consideration.

This fact was generally recognized by both proponents and opponents of the amendment at the time, as efforts to get additional states to ratify it ceased for more than a decade. Not only that, but in 1983, proponents introduced a new ERA in Congress.

In 1992, the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, dealing with Congressional pay, was ratified long after it was submitted to the states for ratification. This caused some ERA proponents to renew their efforts to get it adopted. The fundamental difference between the two amendments is that Congress did not set a ratification deadline for the 27th Amendment, while they did set a deadline for the ERA.

Since the submission of the Prohibition Amendment, Congress has routinely added a seven-year ratification time limit, except for two proposed Amendments (Women’s voting rights which passed and Child Labor prohibition which did not pass). Additionally, an Amendment granting full voting authority to residents of Washington DC with representation in the US Senate had a seven-year limit and also failed.

The passing of the ERA deadline has been recognized by the US Supreme Court. Lawsuits over ERA were pending before the Court and on October 4, 1982, in NOW v. Idaho, 459 U.S. 809 (1982), the U.S. Supreme Court declared the questions moot on the grounds that the ERA had expired.

In 1994, the Attorney General’s office issued an opinion stating: “Because the Equal Rights Amendment was not ratified within the original or the extended time limit established by Congress for its ratification, it is no longer before the states for ratification, and any action by the General Assembly to ratify it now would be a nullity”.

More recently, the US Justice Department stated that the ERA had expired and Virginia’s purported ratification of it would make no difference.

Some ERA proponents want to ignore facts they do not like, such as the ratification deadline, that 5 states withdrew their ratification, and that other states placed time limits on their ratification which expired decades ago. While I certainly support equal rights for all, for the General Assembly to be able to consider the ERA, the US Congress needs to resubmit the amendment to the states for ratification.

I expect Virginia’s ratification of the old ERA, after the fact, will set off a series of expensive and divisive lawsuits over the validity of the amendment. Regardless of who wins these lawsuits, a large portion of the country will consider the Constitution to be tainted, either with an amendment that is not valid or because an amendment that should be included was not. All this confusion and divisiveness could be avoided by Congress simply submitting a new amendment to the states.

I hope that ERA proponents will spend their time lobbying Congress instead of getting the General Assembly to pass a resolution that would have no effect or worse spark a series of costly and divisive lawsuits.

SESSION OFF TO A BUMPY START

The General Assembly got off to a bumpy start last week. The new Democrat majority appeared unprepared to assume control. Normally session rules to conduct business are adopted within the first hour of convening; unfortunately, this took three days to get done this year, putting us behind schedule. I think the Democrats are finding that governing is very different than campaigning.

This is the long session and is scheduled to run for 60 days. Things move very quickly during session. We will have to deal with thousands of pieces of legislation and budget amendments in just a few weeks.

If you would like to come down for a visit during session, please let me know and I would be happy to schedule a tour.

NEW RULES
Not only did it take longer for the rules to be adopted, but there were some significant changes to the rules. The first change was empowering the House Rules Committee to change the rules regarding discrimination and guns without a vote by the full House. In the past, any changes to the rules required a vote by the full House. This change allows a committee to make rules that affect all Delegates without their approval. It is also the only committee that does not have proportional representation, it is stacked with 13 Democrats and only 5 Republicans, the other committees reflect the 55/45 split in membership.

Another significant rule change is the banning of firearms and knives (with a blade over 3 inches) in the Capitol and legislative buildings. This was adopted by the Joint Rules Committee last week and changes a long-standing policy of allowing people with a concealed carry permit to possess a gun.

People have been allowed to carry a firearm at the Capitol for almost 20 years with no negative incidents, there was no need for this change. “Gun free zones” do not prevent criminals from using guns to commit crimes, all they do is make it harder for law abiding citizens to defend themselves.

One of the consequences of the Democrats’ Capitol gun ban is that visitors must go through airport-type security before getting the opportunity to speak to their representatives. If you are coming to the Capitol this session, please allow extra time to go through security.