Disturbing Directions in Richmond
Kenneth R. Ken Plum
The Virginia General Assembly provided another week of shock and awe as we labored long hours to meet a February 17 deadline when all bills must be considered by the house of origin. While my previous 24 sessions prepared me for the volume of work, nothing prepared me for the change in policy direction and tone that has taken place in the House of Delegates over the past couple of years.
Every couple of days brings another bill to limit womens choices in their reproductive rights. Great imagination is shown in closing any loopholes and in trying to close abortion clinics. This week a bill passed to outlaw putting to death for a capital crime a pregnant woman. Since most death row inmates spend years on death row, it is not clear how such women would get pregnant. There is a bill requiring that a fetus be given anesthetic before an abortion. While these bills pass the House by at least 70 votes with me voting no, most are being killed in a Senate Committee.
The House passed a law saying that marriage is between a man and a woman even though such a law has been on the books since 1975. In fact, the new law says that it is existing public policy of the Commonwealth. The ultra-conservatives who drive the actions of the House just seemingly wanted to be sure so they passed the same law a second time!
The House watered down the Fair Housing Law without presenting any evidence of a need for a change in the law. Under the change if the Senate does not reject it, complaints of discrimination in housing would be much more difficult to bring. I voted against the change.
I also voted against a bill that passed the House to take the General Assembly out from under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I started my career working against the closed government that the Byrd Democratic Machine ran in Virginia. We have made wonderful progress in moving to government in the sunshine. Under the new law if agreed to by the Senate, the Joint Rules Committee controlled by the Republicans could close any or all legislative meetings.
An independent financial analyst delivered a sobering message to the House of Delegates on Virginia being put on a watch list by a bond rating agency. He made it clear that the ball is in your court for Virginia to solve its current budget problems with permanent, responsible and long-term solutions or face a downgrading of its AAA bond rating. Such an action would cost state and local governments millions of dollars in additional financing costs.
A preoccupation with a conservative agenda, a direction towards a closed government, and an unwillingness to accept the realities of the current budgetary situation are examples of the disturbing directions being seen in the House of Delegates in Richmond. Fortunately the Senate takes a more moderate approach, and the Governor still has the veto power although some of his vetoes could be overridden.
If you want to know how particular bills are faring, email me at email@example.com.