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.

School Funding

Funding for education is the largest part of the state budget. The General Assembly has provided nearly $ 4 Billion in new funding for public schools since the Great Recession. Below are the recent state school funding figures for the localities in the 88th District. This only shows state funding; local governments provide significant funds in addition to state funds. Fiscal Year 2020 are budgeted numbers, previous years are actual expenditures.

The share of state funding per locality is based on the Local Composite Index (LCI) which is periodically recalculated. It attempts to measure local ability to fund schools. Poorer localities have a lower LCI, which means they receive a greater share of state funding, while wealthier localities have a higher LCI and receive a smaller share of state funding.

National Rating

The online publication Wallet Hub has announced their 2019 list of States With the Best School Systems, and Virginia is near the top. Virginia is ranked 4th overall in terms of best school system, and 2nd for school safety. The study also found that Virginia schools had the 4th highest scores on math tests, 4th lowest incidence of bullying.

School safety has been a major focus of the General Assembly in recent years. The Select Committee on School Safety completed its work recently and presented a comprehensive final report with recommendations last session to make our students and schools safer through threat prevention, counseling realignment, increased mental health services, and increased training for school personnel and school security. The final report also includes best practices for localities on mutual aid agreements, school design and security planning, and infrastructure improvements. These recommendations were recently adopted by the General Assembly.