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The Legislators from the 2012 General Assembly Have Gone Home — But Are Their Actions Forgotten and Forgiven?

August 15, 2012

Midnight, June 30 — An Important Date

Just a reminder, in case it passed by unnoticed in your home or place of employment.  Those of you with positions in local government were very aware that at exactly Midnight on June 30 the vast majority of those 846 bills that survived the rigors of the legislative process, and received the approval of the Governor, officially became part of the law of the Commonwealth.

Among the bills which became “law” at 12:01am July 1 were two which garnered more media ink and more electronic air time than probably all of the rest of the legislation to come before the 2012 General Assembly.  There were a number of bills which received a wide range of publicity; however, most every capitol observer to whom you talk concur that the two most discussed, debated, damned, praised and then damned some more bills were the “personhood bill” and the “fetal ultrasound bill” (actually titled: “Abortion: Informed Consent”).  These bills over shadowed all of the other introduced legislation, including the budget, as far as media attention and national publicity for the 2012 Virginia General Assembly were concerned.

A Brief History Review  (It has been five months since the GA adjourned!)

First—HB 1: The “Personhood Bill:” Patron, Robert G “Bob” Marshall, (R-13th)

HB 1, the Personhood Bill, is now in limbo.  The State Senate voted on a 24-14 vote to “recommit the bill to the Committee on Education and Health” after the committee had reported it to the floor for debate on an 8-7 party line vote, the Republicans having the majority.  The committee then voted to “carry-over” the bill until the 2013 session.  Usually this is a “soft way” to kill a bill.  After all of the controversy, there are many legislators and a goodly number of worn-out lobbyists that are hopeful this may be the case with this bill.

One important player in the legislative process has been known to say, “They (carry-over bills) normally don’t get the time of day!”  If this is the case with HB 1, and in all likelihood it will be, the people who know the chief patron of the bill well are already betting the bill will be re-introduced in the 2013 session.

Second—HB 462: The “Abortion: Informed Consent (or The Fetal Ultrasound) Bill: Patron, Kathy J. Bryon, (R—22nd).

Now the other bill, which generated heavy “emotions” during the regular session, HB 462, received a different fate.  The bill as originally introduced and the substitute which passed the House on Valentine’s Day on an essentially party line vote 63-36 (one Democrat voted for passage and three Republicans voted against) had mandated language.  So, by the time this bill reached the Senate a major controversy had developed over its mandate that any facility or physician contemplating performing an abortion must provide the woman, “A statement of the probable gestational age of the fetus at the time the abortion is to be performed and that fetal ultrasound imaging shall be performed prior to the abortion to confirm the gestational age.”  (The words in italics would be the language added to the code by this bill.)

It had become apparent that the term “fetal ultrasound imaging” in the early stages of a pregnancy would likely have to be a “trans-vaginal ultrasound.”  In addition, the bill as introduced did not have an exception in cases of pregnancy caused during rape or incest.  The Governor pushed for an amendment to include this exception.  The Senate amendments added this exclusion.

The real public furor about the bill, however, was the requirement of an unnecessary medical procedure prior to an abortion that should be left to the discussion between a woman and her doctor.  The invasive nature of a trans-vaginal ultrasound being mandated by law not only drew opposition from pro-choice groups but also raised the heckles of women throughout the Commonwealth.

Then the national late-night talk shows picked up the irony of this legislation, which mandated an invasive medical procedure for women seeking an abortion, being sponsored by Virginia Republican legislators and backed by the Republican Governor.  After all, Republicans believe in less government and more independent freedom, don’t they? This situation was particularly attractive to the late-night TV hosts since Gov. McDonnell was (at the time) being prominently mentioned as a contender for Vice Presidential candidate in the upcoming Presidential Election.

While the Governor stoutly maintained the legislation should not be considered as either pro-choice or pro-life legislation, the opponents stressed, “… Kristi Hamrick, a spokesman for the anti-abortion Americans United for Life, confirmed that the group authored a model bill, titled ‘The Woman’s Ultrasound Right to Know Act’ appears to have been the inspiration for a number of bills currently under consideration in many state legislatures, including HB 462 in Virginia…”   (From a student’s Honor paper on HB 462).

Democrat legislators who opposed the bill reflected the mood being expressed by a number of medical and women’s groups throughout the state.  Richmond Delegate Jennifer McClellan, D-71st, expressed the feeling of many women in her floor attack on the bill when she stated, “This is a significant blow for Virginia women, whom legislative Republicans seemingly cannot trust to make their own medical decisions without the General Assembly’s intrusive meddling.  The supporters of this measure do not have medical facts or public opinion on their side.  Their only goal is to intimidate women and appeal to a narrow, extremist base.”

State Senator Ralph Northam, D-6th, the only physician in the Virginia Senate, echoed statements by medical groups from around the state when he called the bill, “…a tremendous assault on women’s health care and a tremendous insult to physicians.” 

The Doctor/Legislator’s comments were made during the debate on the Senate Committee on Education and Health’s substitute bill which had altered the original bills requirement for a “…fetal ultrasound imaging…” procedure to  “…fetal trans-abdominal ultrasound imaging…”  Even though this wording modified the mandate to only require trans-abdominal imaging and deflected the harsh criticism about forcing a woman to have trans-vaginal ultrasound to have an abortion, the basic opposition to the bill remained.  The political damage had been done.  The emotional issue of mandating a procedure which the opponents of the bill felt should be between a woman and her doctor had been raised to a new height.  The public, particularly young women, was generally stirred up over this bill more than they had been over any legislation since the decision Row vs Wade was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973.

The AftermathThe National Scene In Other states

As noted, a student taking my Political Science course at JMU did her Honors Program term paper on HB 462.  She uncovered some interesting facts about similar legislation in effect or being considered in other states.  According to her research “seven other states have already passed legislation requiring pre-abortion ultrasound screening and according to Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute (an abortion rights group) at least eighteen other states are considering similar bills.”

The uproar in Virginia over HB 462 caused other legislatures to reassess the wording in their proposed legislation.  My student research noted that “sponsors of a bill in Alabama that aims to strengthen an existing ultrasound requirement have decided to seek a revision softening the bill.”

The state senators in Idaho apparently reconsidered the language in their ultrasound bill and added the wording “whichever method the physician and patient agree is best under the circumstances.”

In her research paper the student also reported that an “ultrasound requirement” has been in effect since February in Texas with little of the outcry seen in Virginia.  Also, similar laws in Oklahoma and North Carolina are now blocked by Federal Court orders until their constitutionality is determined.

It is obvious.  Virginia and the nation will continue to hear about this legislation for months to come.  The actions of the 2012 VA General Assembly and other legislatures around the country concerning ultrasound imaging have, as one female Republican activist exclaimed, “…(this legislation) outraged women of all ages but particularly those in their child bearing years…My fear is they won’t forget about it when they go to vote!”

The Aftermath — Political Races of 2012

Virginia’s electorate has changed over the years.  The surge in registration of African-Americans, Latinos, and youthful Americans, 18 to 22, increased the number of qualified voters in 2008.  This meant a much more diverse group of people carried the state for Obama.

In a recent column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, political writer Jeff Schapiro observed, “In the new Virginia, more voters means a more moderate electorate, less likely to countenance rigid conservatism, examples of which, Democrats contend, include the abortion-ultrasound requirement.”   While Jeff wrote this as one of the reasons Romney bypassed Bob McDonnell for his running mate, he brings up a valid observation.  This realization has not been lost on the Democrat strategists.

Watch the multitude of TV ads being aired already (and it’s not even Labor Day yet!) by Democrat candidates and their Super PAC supporters focusing on “the gender gap” which they perceive is being suffered by the Republican candidates.  The media (as usual), concentrating on the Presidential Campaigns, are giving a great deal of ink and airtime to this perception.
This publicity will filter down to the U.S. Senate and Congressional races.   Those states which considered “mandatory ultrasound bills for women seeking abortions” legislation this year will be particularly inundated with this type of advertising and publicity.

It appears this is the Democrats thinking.  “Yes, the economy and jobs will be the primary issues.  However, if the GOP doesn’t really hit a home run with a very persuasive argument on how to solve these ‘tough economic times, increase jobs and cut the deficit…’ then women will vote the social issues and they will vote for Democrats.”

Historical data tells us one of the toughest age groups to motivate to come to the polls is the young voters 18 to 25 years of age.  This group was motivated in 2008.  They voted giving Obama and other Democrat candidates a large majority of their votes.  Recently there have been articles and commentaries on the malaise of the women in this group who voted for Obama.  The Democrats will need to inspire this group to again come to the polls and vote for Democrats this fall.

Polls verify the females in this group are strong supporters of Roe vs Wade.  Even those who generally lean Republican will emphatically tell you, “I’m tired of those males (the large majority of legislators in most states fit the category of white-Anglo-Saxon male) in the legislature telling me what I can and can’t do with my body!”

So, yes, these women are passionate about the social issues relating to their bodies and their ability to make decisions regarding reproductive activities.  Thus, keeping these social issues front and center will help bring these women to the polls on Election Day.  Put in the mix the controversial ultrasound imaging legislation about which these voters are extremely passionate, very angry, and emotionally outraged and the Republicans have an uphill battle to secure these votes much less their support.

There is evidence that some Virginia Republican leaders are either unaware or downplaying the political impact of the aftermath of the passage of HB 462.  It is apparent the Romney campaign strategists are not.  The “SHE VOTES” bus, sponsored by the “Concerned Women of American” tour last week was designed to bolster the awareness among women of certain women’s issues.  While the sponsoring group is reportedly non-partisan, the issues they espouse are definitely favorable to the Republicans. This type of effort, however, cannot, in the opinion of many political analysts, overcome the impact of the legislative actions already taken by the Republican majorities in the legislature in 2012.

There is also concern among some Republican Congressional Campaigns in the state that this anger among young women voters and their mothers will carry over into the down ticket races.  This impact will be lessened because of the 2011 redistricting.  It will also depend how effectively congressional candidates can distance themselves from the actions of their “colleagues in the General Assembly” on this issue and still keep the support of the Republican legislators in their districts.  Sometimes it is good to be a good dancer when you are in politics!

It’s going to be a tedious fall, what with all of the political negative ads.  It is also going to be an interesting fall to see how the campaigns counter each others’ ads and campaign charges.  The Presidential debates will be fascinating and closely watched.  As you listen and read about the campaigns, see if the secondary social issues discussed here begin to play a more prominent role in which party wins the “swing state of Virginia.”

The Aftermath — Elections of 2013

There is generally a feeling among politicians that the public’s memory is rather short.  You know, “What have you done for (or to) me lately?”  So many Virginia legislators feel the furor over HB 426 will fade into the sunset by November of 2013.  (That’s the year when all members of the House of Delegates must run again.)  Having witnessed the reaction and the deep feelings of many women both young and old, every legislative supporter of this legislation better be careful of this idea. They need to start now to rebuild fences with the majority of the females in their districts, or be in for some surprises.

In Virginia, Elections on the day after Labor Day 2012!

There are now two vacancies in the Virginia General Assembly.

Delegate David L. Englin, D-45th District (Part of Arlington County, part of Fairfax County and Alexandria) resigned from the House in July for “personal reasons.”

Long time State Senator Yvonne B, Miller, D-5th District (Part of the cities of Chesapeake and Norfolk) “crossed the bar” on July 3, a day before her 78th birthday. Yvonne served in the House from 1984 to 1988 and in the Senate from 1988 until her death.

The Governor has set both special elections for the 4th of September which, according to the calendar, is the day after Labor Day.  It is reliably rumored the Democrats are not real happy with the Republican Governor about this selection of an election day.  It is also a reasonably safe bet there are some election officials that aren’t too happy about it either, but that’s when the people will select the replacements to represent these two districts.

In the 45th House District the Democrats nominated K. Robert “Rob” Krupicka, an Alexandria Councilman, to run for the seat.  Over 73% of the voters in the district live in Alexandria.  The district is considered “solidly Democratic” and Krupicka should retain the seat for the Democrats.  The Republicans have nominated Tim McGhee to run in the special election.  McGhee has never held office and is a new comer to the election process.  It will be a great surprise to all of the political watchers if Krupicka isn’t the new delegate come Sept. 5, but anything can happen in a special election being held the day after Labor Day and the opening day of public schools in the area!

For the tidewater Senate seat, Delegate Kenneth C. Alexander, D-89th was unanimously nominated by the Democrats and will run unopposed in this solidly Democrat district.

After these Sept. 4 elections another special election will have to be held to fill the 89th District House seat from which Kenny will have to resign.  The timing of this election will be interesting.  Will the State Senator-elect wait to resign his House seat to force the Governor to call the special election on the date of the General National Election (Nov. 6)?  Or will we have another special election before November?  Stay tuned!


In case you missed the previous Giesen Perspective, it's reprinted below

The General Assembly—The Special Session Moves Forward

March 27, 2012

SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE ACTS!

Last Wednesday, as predicted, was a pro forma special session of your full General Assembly (GA).  Nonetheless, real progress was made toward breaking what has been the “budget roadblock” for the 2012 Sessions of the GA.  The Senate Finance Committee (SFC) had been meeting in various ways since the regular session ended.  The Committee was able to report its new versions of HB1300 (the caboose budget bill for the 2010-2012 biennium) and HB1301 (the new budget bill for the 2012–2014 biennium) on Thursday.

Remember when last we discussed the financial impasse of the GA, Del. Lacey Putney had gotten unanimous consent from the House to introduce new budget bills, the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) had amended those bills to be like HB 29 and 30 which the full Senate had defeated on tie votes, and the House had passed them and sent them to the Senate just before the Regular 2012 Session of the GA adjourned.

Remember also that the Democrat Senate Caucus suggested amendments to HB 1300 and HB 1301 that were before the SFC.  Then there were also one or two new amendments offered during the Special Session, and the Committee, of course, still had to consider all of the changes which the members had previously made to the Appropriations bills when they considered them initially.  They did the job.  The bills were reported from the SFC to the full Senate “in the nature of substitutes” unanimously!

The two houses had recessed last Wednesday until today, Monday, March 26.  The weekend gave the SFC staff time to produce all of the adopted amendments in the proper form and distribute them to the full membership.  Copies were also sent to the members of the House leadership and the members of the HAC.   As this is being written the full Senate has been briefed by the SFC staff on the details of their adopted budget.  It is fully expected that these versions of the Appropriations Bills will pass the full Senate this afternoon and evening

THE DEMOCRAT AMENDMENTS

A large majority of the amendments which the Senate Democrat caucus had forwarded to the Governor and the Senate Republican Leadership have been incorporated in the reported version of HB 1300 and 1301 as amended.  The one amendment which the last GP predicted might be a deal breaker is the $3,000,000 plus dollars to cover the cost of the “mandated ultrasound procedure” for women seeking an abortion.  The amendment the Democrat Caucus proposed would appropriate about $1.5 million a year to cover the cost of the procedure for women without insurance.

It is this writer’s opinion that the Democrat members of the SFC voted to report HB 1301 without this item included with every expectation of it being adopted on the floor of the Senate today.  There are indications that several Republican Senators will vote in favor of the amendment.  If the Democrat caucus sticks together then they would have at least the 21 votes needed to pass the amendment.   (Update:  While listening to the Senate debates, yours truly learned how wrong the indication he had received proved to be.  The amendment for funding the ultrasound procedure was sponsored by the Democrat Senate Floor Leader, Dick Saslaw, and defeated on a 19-20 vote.)

So, it now appears the Senate Democrat Caucus has achieved sufficient action on its money amendments to the budget to be able to support the final version of the SFC’s budget bills (assuming the ultrasound amendment is adopted).

Update:  This was not a deal broker.  The Senate passed the bills 34-5!

But what about the second portion of their concerns, i.e power sharing in leadership positions and committee assignments within the Senate structure?  Well now, it appears the leadership of the D’s caucus, having flexed the muscle they have (the ability to keep the Commonwealth from having a budget), they can keep their powder dry for the time being.  There is no real “immediate” advantage to the 20 Democrat Senators to achieve some additional committee or leadership positions “at this time.”

Now, come the time to start preparing for the 2013 GA Session, there might be — in fact, it is probably a very safe bet that there will be — some very strong additional negotiations between the leaders of both parties. There will be some private discussions in the meantime.

It has been a little uncertain exactly how the Democrat Caucus is defining “power sharing.”  This definition may, you understand, have changed since this subject of sharing power has come to the fore with the budget stalemate.  Amazing how politicians can modify their thinking when they learn maybe the public isn’t so supportive.  Do you suppose the elected officials across the Potomac might learn something from this situation?

 THE BUDGET PROCESS and THE FUTURE

Many legislators, anticipating a positive vote by the State Senate on the budget, have been stating there is a real possibility the final adoption of a conference report on the budget can be approved by next Monday, Apr. 2.   This time frame is a possibility, however, there are some historical perspectives that indicate it may not be probable.

The budget process, as has been discussed on several occasions in previous GPs, now goes back to the standard steps.  The Senate version of HB 1300 & 1301 now go to the House (perhaps this could happen yet Tuesday afternoon—March 27) and the more numerous body would reject the Senate substitutes and request a Committee of Conference for the bills.  The committee members, of course, are already known to be meeting although not officially since they have had no “official bills” on which to negotiate.

As a reminder, the conferees are from the House of Delegates: Delegates Lacey Putney, (Chairman of the HAC), Kirk Cox, Chris Jones, Steve Landes, Beverly Sherwood, and Johnny Joannou; and from the State Senate: Walter Stosch (Chairman of the SFC), Tommy Norment, John Watkins, Emmett Hanger, Chuck Colgan, and Janet Howell.  Most of these fine legislators have negotiated budgets in the past.  They are experienced in this process.  They are also knowledgeable and very strong willed.  They know how to compromise, but they also know how to maintain the position of their particular house when there is a disagreement.

There have been discussions going on behind the scenes for the past several weeks.  Many indications are there have already been many agreements between the conferees.  However, there are several new issues in the budgets which will be sent back to the House by the Senate.  For instance, the House has a long standing dislike of providing funds for Pre-K education in the Commonwealth. The position expressed in the past has been that the state has the obligation to provide funding for public education from kindergarten thru high school education.  Generally, the HAC has not been responsive to amendments for tax dollars going to pre-kindergarten education.  This will be a major sticking point since it is now a part of the Senate Substitute for HB 1301.

The House may also balk at the $600 million in bonded indebtedness authorized by the Senate bill.  This is in contrast to the $100 million in debt in the bill sent to the Senate.  This could be another item that will require some tough negotiations and may not be reconciled by the end of this week.

These are a couple of examples of items which might cause some delay in the conferees reaching a final conclusion for the whole budget.  It may not happen.  However, the past provides us with a lot of evidence that these or other items can delay a final resolution on the budget.  If one looks at the past decade it appears that your General Assembly doesn’t accomplish or fix the budget by the prescribed and agreed upon or revised deadlines.

On behalf of the localities and school systems of the Commonwealth, all of whom are struggling with their budgets at the present time, let’s hope and perhaps offer a few prayers that this perspective is incorrect.