Never a Dull Moment: Week 3 in the Senate of Virginia
It has been said that laws are like sausages: one prefers not to see them made. Rarely has that been more true than this week, as the General Assembly got bogged down in disputes over moving forward on the nominations of two judicial candidates to whom no one actually objects, then stumbled into a committee blunder that will force a “redo” and could imperil the passage of many good bills – including some on Second Amendment rights.
It’s just been that sort of week. An inadvertent breach of Senate Rules basically nullified everything the Courts of Justice Committee took up in a six hour marathon meeting on Wednesday, and we’re still trying to sort out the carnage. The bills have to be taken up again, and some hard-fought victories will be revisited.
One of those now-jeopardized victories dealt with repealing Virginia’s constitutionally suspect “one gun a month” law, which interferes with the right of law-abiding citizens to purchase firearms. I certainly hope that, when we take the bill up again, we’ll get another favorable committee vote – but I’d certainly rather not be doing this all over again. Plenty of people are upset right now, and understandably so. But that’s life in the Senate of Virginia: never a dull moment.
And as if that battle weren’t enough, there’s always congressional redistricting. Last year, when Democrats controlled the Senate, but not the House or the Governor’s mansion, Senate Democrats decided to roll the dice and block passage of a fair and sensible congressional redistricting plan supported by a bipartisan majority in the House and by the state’s entire congressional delegation. Now that Senate Democrats are unable to block redistricting in the legislature, however, they’re taking to the courts, arguing that we missed our chance to redistrict last year. They want the courts to do their work for them.
I won’t get into all the technical arguments being advanced by both sides, but suffice it to say, I believe that the Constitution of Virginia allows us to redistrict this year – though I’m still disappointed that Senate Democrats played games with redistricting when we tried to take care of it last year. Stay tuned; this is going to be a big issue for a while.
In some more positive news, my bill banning government-mandated “project labor agreements” made it out of committee this week, and I’m looking forward to it receiving a floor vote. The bill, SB 242, will eliminate an unacceptable end-round of Virginia’s Right to Work laws, ensuring that contracts entered into by state and local governments do not contain provisions requiring closed shops or establishing prevailing wages.
“Project Labor Agreements” is government-speak for “union-only,” an anti-competitive arrangement where hard-working Virginians lose and out-of-state Big Labor wins. A full 96% of Virginia’s workforce is non-union, and these PLAs would disqualify all of those Virginia workers in favor of largely out-of-state closed shops. In short, PLAs leave most Virginian workers out in the cold and run up costs on taxpayer-funded projects.
We’re already seeing it on Phase 2 of the Dulles Metrorail’s Silver Line expansion. We don’t need to see it any more, and my bill will address that issue. I’m pleased to say that every member of the Republican caucus has signed onto my bill as a copatron, and a companion bill patroned by Delegates Comstock, Hugo, and Ramadan enjoys similar support in the House. Virginia doesn’t need the failed union policies that destroyed Detroit to undermine our fragile economic recovery. My bill will ensure that job-killing PLAs don’t gain a foothold here.
Another of my bills, SB 158, just passed the Senate 27-13. The bill prevents magistrates and clerks from releasing on bail those charged with truly violent offenses without the concurrence of the Commonwealth’s Attorney. Obviously, judges have the power to set bail — but lesser officers of the court shouldn’t be releasing potentially dangerous individuals into the community without a judge’s order or the Commonwealth Attorney’s consent. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. We’re talking alleged murderers, rapists, and drug kingpins. What my bill requires is just common sense — and soon, I’m confident, it will be law.
Also this week, the Senate passed a bill eliminating history and science SOL testing for third graders. I outlined my opposition to this move in a Roanoke Times op-ed, which you can read here.
Finally, thanks again to all of my friends from back home who stopped by this week. I had visitors from the Farm Bureau, the Credit Unions, two of my local Chambers of Commerce (Warren-Front Royal and Harrisonburg-Rockingham), Eastern Mennonite University, the Blue Ridge Arts Council, the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, local animal shelters, several of my Commissioners of the Revenue, and a number of students. It’s always good to see familiar faces, especially in a week as crazy as this one.
And there’s always next week..
With best regards,
Mark D. Obenshain
Virginia State Senator