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.