N. Va. Dem Lawmakers Mobilize to Assail GOP Extremism in Richmond

Warn of ‘Divisive’ Laws Easing Guns & Discrimination

Northern Virginia’s Democratic state legislative leaders are playing a major role in calling out a wide range of discriminatory and dangerous laws that have passed both chambers in Republican-controlled General Assembly. With the legislative session at its halfway point, State Sen. Dick Saslaw, whose 35th District represents the City of Falls Church and Franconia-based State Del. Mark Sickles were slated to lead a press conference in Richmond today assailing the “wave of divisive social legislation” being passed, and expected to be signed into law, by the GOP.

“Democrats believe we must return Richmond’s focus to jobs and strengthening public schools,” their announcement stated. “Despite promising an agenda focused on economic recovery, Republicans have introduced scores and passed over two dozen bills concerning abortion, handguns, discrimination, voting restrictions and other divisive issues.”

Arlington-based State Sen. Barbara Favola chimed in with a statement yesterday announcing an amendment to Senate Bill 349, a bill introduced by Republican State Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach) that would authorize licensed, state-funded foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate in making services available to children and prospective parents.

Favola noted that the so-called “conscious clause” proposed by McWaters would permit child placement agencies to create “arbitrary disqualifying guidelines based on written religious or moral convictions or policies,” with such disqualifying characteristics including religious affiliation, marital status or sexual orientation.

Favola said, “Foster children are Virginia’s children and the state should not be a party to supporting discrimination in the placement of these children.”

Equality Virginia warned in a statement yesterday that SB 349 could put gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) youth in harms way. Under provisions of the bill, it noted, “The youth could be required to stop attending GLBT support groups or, even worse, enrolled into ‘ex-gay’ reparative or conversion therapy.”

Also, if the “conscience clause” is signed into law, Virginia would become one of only two states in the U.S. (North Dakota being the other) to permit adoption agencies to turn away GLBT couples seeking to adopt.

Major attention has also been paid on the GOP push to repeal Virginia’s one gun a month law. Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has issued a statement strongly urging current Gov. Bob McDonnell to veto the bill if it comes to his desk. Voter suppression laws, requiring voters to provide additional qualifying proofs that could justify turning away millions of low-income voters, are also being pushed both in Virginia and nationally by the GOP.

Indeed, it was a plethora of grim news coming from Richmond by way of three Northern Virginia Democratic legislators last Saturday, as State Del. Kaye Kory and State Sens. Richard Saslaw and Dave Marsden converged on a town hall meeting at the Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Falls Church for a lively two-hour discussion with constituents. The event also provided appearances by U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly and Fairfax County School Board member Sandy Evans.

Kory and Marsden noted how under the newly-Republican-controlled government in Richmond (the governor’s mansion and both houses of the legislature all in GOP hands), a long tradition of civility has been supplanted with “partisan arguing and bullying,” including arbitrary rules changes, some of which Democratic legislators were unaware of until arriving for the 2012 legislative session last month.

Key developments include the wide array of GOP-backed bills expected to become law on restricting the reproductive rights of women, putting more guns on the streets, and suppressing voting rights. “There’s a lot of disenfranchising going on,” Kory remarked. Also, public education is threatened by the governor’s plan to take money from the general fund to fund transportation, and no legislation to implement the national Affordable Health Care Act stands to pass.

On the bills to suppress voting rights by requiring added forms of identification by voters, Saslaw noted the racially-tinged motives behind the push, saying that no such legislation has been proposed by Republicans outside the south. “It is so obvious that even Ray Charles could see through this,” he said.

Kory added that demanding more IDs from voters discriminates against especially older African-American voters because prior to the Civil Rights Act, many of them were deprived access to adequate forms of identification, and therefore still cannot provide birth records needed for a driver’s license or other form of identification.

Rep. Connolly chimed in that bills restricting social and voting rights in Richmond threaten to “tarnish the image of Virginia” in ways that will harm the state’s economic growth, especially in Northern Virginia. “Our growth over the last 30 years,” he said, “Has been based on the idea of preaching no barriers, no barriers to success and diversity. A word of caution, the Republican agenda in Richmond will hurt Virginia,” he said.

He noted that while there have been 24 consecutive months of private sector job growth nationally, there has been a net loss of 600,000 jobs in the public sector, including 16,000 in Virginia, The number of jobs at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has dropped from 10,800 to 6,000, and funding for secondary roads in Fairfax County that was $28 million in 2002 fell to $2,000 last year, and will be zero this year. “This starving of the public sector is the result of a philosophy that says this is a good thing,” Connolly said.

Kory said that the governor’s transportation plan is based on raising money by selling naming rights to highways and rest stops, tolls on Interstate 95 and money drawn out of the general fund. But 35 percent of the general fund goes to K-12 education, 16 percent to higher education and the rest to health, human services and public safety. “There are a lot of very disturbing things going on with the budget,” she said, including “a lot of social services cuts that are hidden in it.” She cited the complete elimination of seven teen pregnancy counselings centers located around the state.

Saslaw noted that in many parts of Virginia, sheriff departments are the primary form of policing, but that many sheriff deputies are paid so little they’re forced to be on public assistance.
Saslaw said that, in terms of the budget, the Republican lieutenant governor does not have a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, which is constituted of a 20-20 tie between Democrats and Republicans. For that reason he said, “The governor is doing to have to come to us (the Democrats) to get his budget passed. “Over the last decade, the general fund has been nickeled and dimed away, and we won’t allow it any more. If there is money taken from it this year for transportation, it will not pass,” he vowed.

Despite the grim prospects, “We (Democrats) will not role over and play dead,” Marsden said. “You elected us and we will do everything we can.”