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General Assembly: Week One
Senators Say the Craziest Things
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRichmond – The relaxed, yet filled with the fun of reunions, Happy New Year’s greetings and anticipation of the Monday and Tuesday preceding the beginning of a General Assembly session morph into pure excitement when it is gaveled into business on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday allow lawmakers, staff, lobbyists, activists, media and all else to gradually acclimate themselves into what will evolve into a frenetic pace.

If the 60 day "long” session is like an 800 meter race — one very fast lap followed by an all out sprint second lap — the 45 day "short” session is a 400 meter race — an all out sprint, four continuous 100 meter races. But at least the runners get to warm up before the starter’s gun goes off.

Except this year. Senate Privileges and Elections Committee Chairwoman Jill Vogel (R-Winchester) announced a blockbuster docket for a highly unusual first day of session committee meeting that included two controversial resolutions — the so-called Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a state constitutional amendment to repeal Virginia’s Marriage Amendment.

In recent years, the former was assigned to the Rules Committee, which appropriately refused to consider the resolution because it is not properly before the body, its ratification process having ended in 1982. The shock assignment to "P&E” meant not only would it be heard, it would get reported to the floor with the help of Vogel and fellow Republican Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach), as well as another Republican, Glen Sturtevant (R-Richmond), who is its patron.

Vogel and DeSteph voted with the committee’s six Democrats to report the resolution 8-6. It will likely pass the Senate and go to a sharply divided House, where all 49 Democrats are co-patrons. Fooling with the nation’s constitution on a knife edge. (The Marriage Amendment repeal failed on a 7-7 vote with only Vogel going off the reservation.)

More shocking, though were comments made during the week. Vogel incredibly told a statewide radio show that the process now goes to the House (correct so far) and, if passed, had to go through the process again next session. Wrong! She confused the process with that of a state constitutional amendment.

Senator Roslyn Dance (D-Petersburg) told a news conference that if it gets out of the House, "we have a governor who will sign it.” Wrong! No executive action is involved in either a U.S. or Virginia constitutional amendment. DeSteph told a crowd of constituent pastors and lobbyists meeting in the hallway outside his office that he has no concerns the so called ERA would remove some churches’ tax exempt status because they do not ordain women, but if it did, he would rectify it by passing a bill. WRONG! In what world does a senator not know that a state law cannot overturn the federal constitution? It makes you wonder what some of the other 37 senators think they know.

Not only do we have ill informed senators bottling up the legislative process, some are pretty good at bottling up traffic as one, last Friday morning, overshot a very shallow crosswalk at 10th and Cary Streets just south of Capitol Square and jammed up the intersection for a few minutes as drivers negotiated an already tight turn. Senators say, and do, the craziest things.

Stephen J. (Steve) Rossie is a Richmond-based public and government relations’ consultant. He has been a General Assembly lobbyist since 2006 and has written about Virginia government since 2007.

 





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