Good Bills, Bad Bills in 2017

January 11th marks the start of the 2017 Virginia General Assembly session.  As is typical, there is a whole host of legislation being proposed.  Some that are good for liberty, some are bad, and many that aren’t all that interesting, such as honoring an individual or business, or technical changes to the law that don’t make much of an impact.  Now, as there are thousands of bills, I won’t share them all, (nor, to be fair, have I read them all).  However, I’d like to share some of the ones I find interesting. Please note that the summaries of the bills are provided by the Virginia Legislative Information System.

Bills I’d like to see passed

HB 1578 Rob Bell (R-58) – Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs. Prohibits public schools from joining an organization governing interscholastic programs that does not deem eligible for participation a student who (i) receives home instruction; (ii) has demonstrated evidence of progress for two consecutive academic years; (iii) is in compliance with immunization requirements; (iv) is entitled to free tuition in a public school;(v) has not reached the age of 19 by August 1 of the current academic year;(vi) is an amateur who receives no compensation but participates solely for the educational, physical, mental, and social benefits of the activity;(vii) complies with all disciplinary rules and is subject to all codes of conduct applicable to all public high school athletes; and (viii) complies with all other rules governing awards, all-star games, maximum consecutive semesters of high school enrollment, parental consents, physical examinations, and transfers applicable to all high school athletes. The bill provides that no local school board is required to establish a policy to permit students who receive home instruction to participate in interscholastic programs. The bill permits reasonable fees to be charged to students who receive home instruction to cover the costs of participation in such interscholastic programs, including the costs of additional insurance, uniforms, and equipment. The bill has an expiration date of July 1, 2022.

Students of parents who choose to homeschool ought to be afforded the same rights and privileges of parents who send their children to public schools.  After all, if someone is required to pay for public schools whether they use them or not for academic instruction, they should be able to enjoy the same benefits.

HB 1637 Glenn Davis (R-84) – Possession or distribution of marijuana for medical purposes; Crohn’s disease. Provides an affirmative defense in a prosecution for the possession of marijuana if the marijuana is in the form of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil possessed pursuant to a valid written certification issued by a practitioner of medicine or osteopathy licensed by the Board of Medicine for purposes of treating Crohn’s disease or alleviating such patient’s symptoms. The bill provides that a practitioner shall not be prosecuted for distribution of marijuana for the treatment of or for alleviating the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

Individuals who use marijuana as a medicine should be able to do so without fear of prosecution.

HB 1677 Ben Cline (R-24) – General Assembly; introduction of legislation; recorded vote. Requires all legislation introduced by a member of the House of Delegates or the Senate to be considered by the committee of purview or a subcommittee thereof and receive a recorded vote. All legislation reported from the house of introduction shall be considered by the committee of purview or a subcommittee thereof in the other chamber and receive a recorded vote.

Citizens ought to know how their elected officials vote, including in committees.  The fact that currently a legislator can kill or promote a bill secretly in a committee without any transparency or accountability is a huge problem.

HB 2028 Nick Freitas (R-30) – Industrial hemp production; authorization. Removes all restrictions on the production of industrial hemp, including licensing and regulations.

There is no reason that I can see why there ought to be any governmental restrictions on hemp.

HB 2265 Ben Cline (R-24) – Concealed handgun permits. Allows any person who is otherwise eligible to obtain a concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun without a permit anywhere he may lawfully carry a handgun openly within the Commonwealth.

Although our right to bear arms is in the US Constitution, lawmakers often try to erode this right.  The right to self-defense among law-abiding citizens isn’t something that should require a permit.

HJ 622 Sam Rasoul (D-11) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); General Assembly; term limits. Limits members of the Senate to three full terms (12 years) and members of the House of Delegates to six full terms (12 years). The limitations apply to service for both consecutive and nonconsecutive terms. Service for a partial term does not preclude serving the allowed number of full terms. In addition to any partial term, a person may serve 12 years in each house, or a total of 24 years in the General Assembly. The limits apply to terms of service beginning on and after the start of the 2020 Regular Session of the General Assembly.

The current political system presently heavily favors incumbents and seniority.  Creating term limits would help curtail these abuses and restore the idea of citizen legislators, not create a future class of career politicians.

HJ 629 Rob Bell (R-58) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); charter schools. Grants the Board of Education authority, subject to criteria and conditions prescribed by the General Assembly, to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth.

Competition is good for the economic marketplace and I believe it good for schools as well as it will encourage more innovation and offer more choices and control to parents.

SJ 240 – Mark Obenshain (R-26) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); charter schools. Grants the Board of Education authority, subject to criteria and conditions prescribed by the General Assembly, to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth.

Same bill as Bell’s HJ 629, same reason to support it.

 

Bills I’d like to see defeated

HB 1398 Delegate Richard (Dickie) Bell (R-20) – Hate crimes; acts against law-enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel. Expands the definition of hate crime for the purpose of reporting hate crimes within the Department of State Police to include acts against persons employed as law-enforcement officers, firefighters, or emergency medical services personnel.

Hate crime legislation often means that the lives and/or wellbeing of some individuals are more valued under the law simply based on race, class, gender identity, or, in this case, their profession.  Crime is crime and justice should be blind.  Punishments shouldn’t be more or less severe based upon the status of the victim involved.

HB 1429 Mark Cole (R-88) – Electors for President and Vice President; allocation of electoral votes by congressional district. Revises the process by which the Commonwealth’s electoral votes are allocated among the slates of presidential electors. The bill provides that a voter will vote for two electors for the Commonwealth at large and one elector for the congressional district in which he is qualified to vote. The candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the two electoral votes for the Commonwealth at large, and the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast in each congressional district are allocated the one electoral vote for that congressional district. Currently, the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the total number of the Commonwealth’s electoral votes.

I discuss my opposition to this bill in this article.

HB 1444 Sam Rasoul (D-11) – Minimum wage. Increases the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.00 per hour effective July 1, 2017, to $12.50 per hour effective July 1, 2019, and to $15.00 per hour effective July 1, 2021, unless a higher minimum wage is required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

In a free marketplace, the government would not set any minimum wage.  In addition, raising it to the levels suggested in this bill will likely hurt small businesses in rural Virginia (who, given the differences in cost of living in their location, cannot afford them).  Lower skilled jobs may also end up disappearing hurting workers as well.

HB 1601 Matthew Fariss (R-59) Electors for President and Vice President; allocation of electoral votes by congressional district. Revises the process by which the Commonwealth’s electoral votes are allocated among the slates of presidential electors. The bill provides that a voter will vote for two electors for the Commonwealth at large and one elector for the congressional district in which he is qualified to vote. The candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the two electoral votes for the Commonwealth at large, and the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast in each congressional district are allocated the one electoral vote for that congressional district. Currently, the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the total number of the Commonwealth’s electoral votes.

Same as my opposition to HB 1429.

HB 1771 Ken Plum (D-36) – Minimum wage. Increases the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour effective January 1, 2018, unless a higher minimum wage is required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Effective January 1, 2020, the minimum wage shall be adjusted biennially to reflect annual increases in the consumer price index over the two most recent calendar years. The measure also provides that the Virginia minimum wage applies to persons whose employment is covered by the FLSA.

See HB 1444 above.

HB 1776 Ken Plum (D-36) Hate crimes; gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability; penalty. Adds gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the categories of victims whose intentional selection for a hate crime involving assault, assault and battery, or trespass for the purpose of damaging another’s property results in a higher criminal penalty for the offense. The bill also adds these categories of victims to the categories of hate crimes that are to be reported to the central repository of information regarding hate crimes maintained by the Virginia State Police.

As with HB 1398, I oppose expanding hate crime legislation and believe that there shouldn’t be special penalties or exceptions for a crime based on the gender, race, creed, or employment status of the victim.

HJ 547 Scott Lingamfelter (R-31) – U.S. Constitution; application for a convention of the states. Makes application to Congress to call a convention of the states to propose amendments to the United States Constitution to restrain the abuse of power by the federal government.

Although I would like to see the federal government obey the law, drafting new amendments or even a new constitution seems like a poor idea given that the federal government is not really held accountable to the present Constitution.  Nullification by state governments would likely be a more proper remedy to this problem, rather than a fairly open-ended convention which could lead to a lot of unintended consequences.

HJ 634 Mark Cole (R-88) – Constitutional amendment (first resolution); authority of elected school boards to impose taxes. Provides that the General Assembly may authorize any elected school board to impose real property taxes.

This bill would allow another government entity to have taxing authority.  How about no!

SB 837 Amanda Chase (R-11) – Electors for President and Vice President; allocation of electoral votes by congressional district. Revises the process by which the Commonwealth’s electoral votes are allocated among the slates of presidential electors. The bill provides that a voter will vote for two electors for the Commonwealth at large and one elector for the congressional district in which he is qualified to vote. The candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the two electoral votes for the Commonwealth at large, and the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast in each congressional district are allocated the one electoral vote for that congressional district. Currently, the candidates for President and Vice President receiving the highest number of votes cast statewide are allocated the total number of the Commonwealth’s electoral votes.

Like with Delegate Cole’s electoral vote bill, I explain my opposition here.

SB 902 Mark Obenshain (R-26) – Primary elections; voter registration by political party. Adds party affiliation to the information that an applicant is asked to provide when registering to vote. The applicant may indicate that he is an independent. The bill requires the State Board of Elections (State Board), in September 2017, to notify all registered voters of the new party registration law and send them a return card to indicate their party affiliation or independent status. Any voter who does not state a party affiliation shall be designated as independent in the registration records. Voters may change their party affiliation or independent status by written notice at any time before the registration records are closed in advance of an election. The bill (i) requires the state party chairman to notify the State Board by January 31 of each year whether the party will close or open its primaries, (ii) requires that primary candidate petitions be signed and witnessed by voters registered as affiliated with the party conducting the primary, (iii) sets the required number of petition signatures at one percent of the number of voters registered as affiliated with the party in the election district where the primary is being held, and (iv) allows an official political party to retain that status as long as at least 15 percent of the Commonwealth’s registered voters are registered as affiliated with that party. The provisions of the bill are applicable to primaries conducted after January 1, 2018.

The state government should not create or maintain a list of members of a private political party.  In addition, this list could be used to exclude some voters from primaries even though as taxpayers they still have to pay for these functions.  As an added thought, one could hardly call these additional costs to the state of these databases as fiscally conservative.

SB 925 Chap Petersen (D-34) – Plastic bag tax in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Imposes a five-cent per bag tax on plastic bags provided to customers by certain retailers in localities located wholly within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and directs revenues to be used to support the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan. The bill also allows every retailer that collects the tax to retain one cent of the five-cent tax.

Although I don’t approve of littering and I believe that there ought to be penalties for those caught doing so, this bill would unnecessarily increase the cost of business for everyone, including those who do not litter.

SB 978 Rosalyn Dance (D-16) – Minimum wage. Increases the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.00 per hour effective July 1, 2017, to $13 per hour effective July 1, 2018, and to $15 per hour effective July 1, 2019, unless a higher minimum wage is required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The measure also provides that the Virginia minimum wage applies to persons whose employment is covered by the FLSA.

As mentioned with Delegate Rasoul’s bill, the government shouldn’t set a minimum wage, nor would the wages this bill suggests be proper for some rural parts of the state where the cost of living is lower and thus wages would also be lower.

Well, these are the interesting and important bills to me.  Eight that should be passed and twelve that need to be defeated.  However, given that there are over a thousand bills out there, I’m sure that I haven’t found them all.  Are there any others that you all think ought to be supported or opposed?

Seniority Plates

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Photo from Senator Dick Black’s Facebook page

This morning, Senator Dick Black (R-Loudoun) announced on Facebook that he has received new license plates for his vehicle.  Each member of the General Assembly is assigned a plate so that their vehicles can be identified easily.  If you see a car on the road that bears the tag “22 Senator”, then you have likely found Senator Black (or someone who has absconded with his property).

However, given that Senator Black represents the 13th senate district of Virginia, it might seem curious that he bears the number 22 instead of 13.  Bizarrely, this numbering system has nothing to do with district number and instead is based upon seniority.  Thus, of the 40 members of Virginia’s State Senate, 21 have served longer than Senator Black.

However, should a senator or a delegate resign his or her office, die, or lose an election, then new license plates will need to be issued to every elected official with less time served than the outgoing member in order to properly reflect this update in seniority.  Depending on how long he or she has been in office, this change could result in a lot of new plates, especially in a large group, like in the hundred member Virginia House of Delegates.

On the Republican primary day in 2015, while volunteering at the polls, I spoke to Delegate Mark Berg (R-Winchester) about this issue.  I observed that although he represented the 29th House of Delegates district, his license plate number was not “29 Delegate”.  He agreed that the numbering scheme didn’t make much sense and offered to sponsor a bill in the 2016 General Assembly session so that the legislators’ plate numbers matched their respective district number.  Unfortunately, the bill didn’t materialize as Delegate Berg was defeated in the GOP primary.

Sure, there are certainly more important issues than license plate numbers.  But, do we really want to “reward” legislators to try and stay in office as long as possible in order to gain a coveted low number?  We don’t renumber legislative districts every year or two when a new delegate or senator acquires office so why in the world should we craft and re-craft so many license plates based upon something the average Virginian would think is so trivial, like seniority?  It may not be the biggest cost savings technique, but if we assigned license plates based upon legislative districts I’m certain we wouldn’t print as many.  Of course redistricting happens too, but it typically comes up once every ten years as a result of the census, not nearly as frequently as either elections to the House (every 2 years) or Senate (every 4 years).

So, isn’t it better to distribute license plates based upon district numbers instead of seniority?  I’m pretty sure that the state government could save at least a few tax dollars by not replacing a multitude of perfectly good plates every two or four years.

The Looming Con-Con

Picture from bobmarshall2012.com
Picture from bobmarshall2012.com

According to an email from Delegate Bob Marshall sent a few moments ago, tomorrow two pieces of legislation regarding a constitutional convention will come before the Rule Committee in the Virginia House of Delegates.  They are HJ 497 sponsored by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter and HJ 499 by Delegate Jim LeMunyon.

Although many of us would agree that the federal government has grossly exceeded the authority granted to it by the U.S. Constitution, we have considerable reservations about a constitutional convention.  Given that the 9th and 10th Amendments are routinely ignored, why would the federal government decide to honor some new amendment that would limit its power?  Unfortunately, an Article V Convention, as proposed by these bills and others, could end up merely legitimizing the century and a half of usurpation that has already taken place.

As Delegate Marshall writes, “Once called by Congress, the Convention cannot be stopped or limited and will have complete authority to change any part of our Constitution!   The only other convention, held in 1787, re-wrote the Articles of Confederation, and changed the ratification requirements from unanimous to three fourths!  Yes, it gave us our present Constitution, but we had many statesmen of moral conviction who fought the War of Independence leading the nation at that time.  Madison said he trembled at the thought of a second convention after witnessing the first!”

He goes on to add, “The state legislators planning the Article V Convention rejected a motion that would have prevented Members of Congress, the US Senate, federal judges and governors from serving as convention delegates.  They also tabled a motion to restrict the subject matter of the convention.”

Anyone who cares about a constitutionally limited government certainly can be sympathetic to the aims of those proposing an Article V Convention.  However, so far the case has not been sufficiently made to do so.  It seems a far better remedy is to demand that our legislators in Washington adhere to the Constitution and replace though who have failed in this duty.  In addition, we need to elect representatives to the General Assembly in Richmond who are not afraid to draw the line and say no to the federal government, show how the feds have violated the Constitution, and fight against any and all encroachment when necessary.

Delegate Marshall concludes his email by saying, “Please also urge your own state delegate and senator to OPPOSE ALL APPLICATIONS ASKING CONGRESS TO CALL AN ARTICLE V CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION.”

Berg Against Obamacare

In 2013, Dr. Mark Berg defeated a long-time delegate from the Winchester area in the Republican primary.  He ran on a platform of liberty and constitutionally limited government.  Now that he is serving in Richmond, he has proposed a piece of legislation, House Bill 338, which seeks to curb Obamacare in the state of Virginia.

In a press release sent out about fifteen minutes ago, the delegate and his staff explain the bill.

“Del. Mark Berg introduced HB 338 to guarantee that Virginia does not end up funding Obamacare implementation.  In the 2013 session of the General Assembly, SB 922 authorized the State Corporation Commission to perform plan management functions for participation in the federal health benefit exchange.  While it claimed to be contingent on full funding from the federal government, the legislation left the door open to partial funding from the state and federal government.

“HB 338 tightens the language to keep the state from paying the bills for the planned management functions in the future.  Del. Berg stated, ‘As we discuss how the state responds to the Affordable Care Act, it is crucial that we make sure the state is never required to gradually pick up the bill for these programs.  Allowing programs to gradually require state funding will put an incredible burden on the state budget.  Passing this bill will help protect the taxpayers and keep Virginia’s financial future secure.'”

I’m sure that many of us would like to see Obamacare repealed as we believe it to be an unconstitutional overreach by the federal government.  Hopefully this bill will prevent it from becoming just another unfunded federal mandate imposed upon the state and her citizens.

You can find the full text of HB 338 here.

Organ Bill Struck

Yesterday’s piece on The Virginia Conservative regarding some rather curious potential changes in the organ donation process in the state of Virginia (HB 154) generated considerable amounts of confusion and anger.  I appreciated the opportunity to speak with Delegate Dickie Bell about this piece of legislation in addition to correcting an error I made in my article.

Picture from Delegate Bell's Facebook page
Picture from Delegate Bell’s Facebook page

This morning, as already reported by Bearing Drift, I have received a message from Delegate Bell stating, “HB154 has created a great deal of controversy and that was never my intention. I assure you that the bill will not go forward and I will strike it officially as soon as that is possible. Be advised that it may still show up until officially taken down in the process. My apologies for the confusion. I accept full responsibility.“.  Although I understand the need to spread awareness about organ donation, many of us were concerned that this bill would create many harmful consequences.

I thank Delegate Bell for his continued efforts on behalf of the citizens of the Shenandoah Valley as well as his decision to not promote this bill in next year’s General Assembly session.

In liberty!

Your Organs Belong…to Virginia?

In just a few short weeks, Virginia’s part-time legislature, the General Assembly, shall convene again in Richmond.  As such, news of proposed bills have been popping up all across the internet.  Today, a fellow constitutionally conservative activist named Sandy brought a potentially troubling piece of legislation to my attention.

HB 154 Presumed consent for organ donation doesn’t sound particularly liberty friendly, does it?  According to the summary as introduced, this bill “establishes a system of presumed consent for organ donation in the Commonwealth.”

The full text of the bill is available here.  Note this particular line with the italicized text replacing the crossed present law.  “inform the family of each potential donor of the option to donate organs, tissues, or eyes or to decline to donate (a) identify individuals who have registered a refusal to make an anatomical gift and revocation of presumed consent to an anatomical gift and (b) inform the family of individuals who have not filed a refusal to make an anatomical gift and revocation of presumed consent to an anatomical gift about the organ donation process. ”

And perhaps the most distressing part of the bill:

Ҥ 32.1-291.3:1. Presumption of anatomical gift.

Every resident of Virginia shall be presumed to have made an anatomical gift of his whole body, unless the individual has refused to make an anatomical gift pursuant to § 32.1-291.3:2. Such anatomical gift shall become effective upon the individual’s death without the need to obtain the consent of any survivor.”

From Delegate Bell's Facebook page
From Delegate Bell’s Facebook page

This piece of legislation is offered by Delegate Dickie Bell of Staunton.  Even though typically a fine legislator (with particularly excellent taste in facial hair), every so often he offers a bill (such as increasing state surveillance of the sale of precious metals) that causes advocates of limited government to cringe.  Edit:  Del. Bell has not sponsored a bill making failure to use seat belts a primary offense.  However, as reported by the Daily News Record, “a few years ago Bell said it was likely he would have considered mandatory seat belt laws a government intrusion.  But he now would probably support a mandatory seat belt law, citing numerous safety studies on their use.” Mellott, J. (2010, Feb. 8) Collision Course With Safety? Daily News Record.

Although organ donation is a fine option that helps improve or save the lives of a multitude of individuals, it should, like most parts of life, remain a choice.  To somehow presuppose that the Virginia government has first dibs on its citizens’ organs unless they specifically state otherwise is, quite frankly, terrifying.  Does Virginia somehow own its citizens’ bodies?  In this state are they merely on lease to the individual as long as he or she remains alive?  I hope the answer to these two questions is a definitive no!

Organ donation ought to remain an opt-in decision rather than allowing the state to simply assume consent  and control of our bodies unless stated otherwise.  For this reason, it is my hope that HB 154 does not pass.

Virginia’s Tenth Stand

Here in Virginia we are gearing up for another session of the General Assembly, the legislative body of the state government.  Delegates and senators have begun to showcase the bills they hope to pass in the upcoming year and there is one that should be of particular interest to any person who seeks to curtail the power of the federal government.

The purpose of bill, House Joint Resolution Number 130, is in “memorializing the Congress of the United States to honor state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”  This resolution has attracted a good number of sponsors, currently including: Delegates Randy Minchew of Loudoun County, Dave Albo of Fairfax County, Rob Bell of Albemarle County, Mark Cole of Fredericksburg, Chris Head of Roanoke, Keith Hodges of Middlesex County, Jimme Massie of Henrico County, Rick Morris of Isle of Wight County, Israel O’Quinn of Bristol, and David Ramadan of Loudoun County.

But what exactly does this resolution say?  Well, it begins by quoting the 10th Amendment.  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”  It further notes, “The Tenth Amendment defines the total scope of federal power as being that specifically granted by the Constitution of the United States and no more”.

The resolution goes on to boldly claim that “many federal laws are directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States” and “that Congress may not simply commandeer the legislative and regulatory processes of the states”.

The resolution concludes with the following assertion: “The Commonwealth of Virginia hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States. The Commonwealth by this resolution serves notice to the federal government, as its agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers. Further, the Commonwealth urges that all compulsory federal legislation that directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties or sanctions or requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding shall be prohibited or repealed.”

The full text of Resolution 130 can be found here.

It has become clear that most of the legislators in Congress, the president, the courts, and the federal bureaucracy have little interest in restraining their powers to those specifically enumerated in the Constitution.  Therefore, in order to restore some sense of federalism, it is up to the states and the people to claim the authority that is rightfully theirs.

But lingering questions remain.  Will the delegates and senators in Richmond have the political courage to pass this resolution?  And if they do, are they willing to chart a course that will enforce the federal limitations found in the Constitution and the 10th Amendment?  After all, it would mean an end to federal control of many facets of life including, but limited to: education, healthcare, retirement, and the modern welfare state.

Conservatives, libertarians, and constitutionalists all across Virginia should support House Joint Resolution 130 and ought to write his or her legislators and encourage them to do likewise.  It’s time to make a stand!