From Virginia House Minority Leader David Toscano:
The General Assembly adjourned on Friday, February 27, 2015, at approximately 9:00 p.m.In most sessions, the last minute negotiations surround the budget. This year, it involved ethics reform. As you may have noticed from numerous news reports, Senate Republicans threatened to block any ethics bill from being passed. At the last moment, however, they relented, and we were able to pass modest ethics reform that improves the law somewhat on what had previously been in place. While this law goes farther than previous efforts, it does not tackle the critical issues related to campaign finance reform, including the role of major contributions in election campaigns. That being said, the bill lowers from $250 to $100 the value of gifts, meals, and travel that an elected official can receive from a lobbyist or a person seeking a contract with the state. It also includes any dependents living in the official’s home, such as a spouse, child, or other relative. The bill clearly could have gone farther; the Ethics Advisory Council does not have much enforcement power and there are certain exemptions to the gift ban for legislators’ travel to “widely attended” events such as conferences. I voted for the bill because it is better than our laws were two years ago, but I believe there is still much to be done.
The last days of the session saw a number of measures passed that I had proposed and strongly supported. Included in these were the expansion of the DNA database, a campus sexual assault reporting bill that protects survivors while providing increased encouragement to them to report perpetrators of these crimes, and a bill that requires notations be placed on college transcripts when students are discharged for violations of the codes of conduct. These measures were proposed as a result of The Rolling Stone article on UVa and the Hannah Graham case, and I believe that they will bring a higher level of protection for our citizens while encouraging more reporting of sexual assault on campuses.
During the final days, we also passed:
A bill to increase safety of daycare facilities (HB1570). Homes serving five or more children will require licensing. There will be national fingerprint background checks for employees, and a requirement that unlicensed providers tell parents in writing that they are not licensed or regulated by the state. This will undoubtedly increase safety in our daycare facilities.
A bill that will further professionalize the Virginia ABC operation (HB1776). ABC will now be an authority that is run more like a business and less responsive to political appointees.
A bill that extends health insurance coverage for autism treatment to about 5,000 more children (HB1940).
This session brought changes to extend mental health benefits to about 22,000 low-income Virginians, increased funding for free clinics, legislation to de-criminalize the use of oils derived from marijuana to treat severe epilepsy, and the defeat of a measure that would have shrouded Virginia’s lethal injection process in secrecy by preventing public disclosure of the drugs used in execution.
Little progress was made on common sense gun legislation; the House rejected my bill that would have allowed private gun sellers to voluntarily ask state police to conduct a background check of anyone who sought to buy firearms from them at a gun show (HB2370). Universal background checks and the return of one-gun-per-month were also defeated. At least we were able to defeat a bill that had been offered by some Republicans to put guns in schools and airports.
2015 Virginia House of Delegates House Democratic Caucus - Back Row (left to right): Vivian Watts, Mark Sickles, Mark Keam, Daun Hester, Lionell Spruill, Luke Torian, Kaye Kory, Scott Surovell; Middle Row: Monty Mason, David Bulova, Eileen Filler-Corn, Alfonso Lopez, Joe Preston, Patrick Hope, Joseph Lindsey, Ken Plum, Rip Sullivan, Matthew James, Marcus Simon; Sam Rasoul, Mike Futrell; Front Row: Jeion Ward, Delores McQuinn, Betsy Carr, Roz Tyler, Jennifer McClellan, Toscano, Mamye Bacote, Kathleen Murphy, Charniele Herring, Johnny Joannou, Rob Krupicka.
We passed a bill that will allow home-schooled children to participate in public school athletics, and a bill that will allow Uber and other transportation ride-sharing services to operate in Virginia. We passed bills that will establish two new veteran care centers in the Commonwealth and to allow veterans to receive certain academic credits at community colleges for training and educational programs they completed during their military service.
For those interested in music, we passed legislation that would designate not one, but two state songs. “Our Great Virginia” will be considered the traditional state song and “Sweet Virginia Breeze” will be considered the popular state song.
The big disappointment continues to be our failure to pass Medicaid expansion.
The Governor has until March 30 to sign, veto or send amendments to legislation, including the budget. We return to Richmond for the one-day Reconvene Session on Wednesday, April 15, 2015, to address his vetoes and amendments.
Several of my floor speeches from this year’s Session can be viewed here via YouTube.
I have now returned to my law practice, but remain willing to assist you with any issue involving the Commonwealth. Please feel free to call my office at (434) 220-1660, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or concerns. It is a pleasure serving you in the General Assembly.
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Tuesday, March 3. Also, check out Jon Stewart mocking the "unstoppable tag team" of "turtle and carrot" (McConnell and Boehner).
I've now seen Terry McAuliffe use the same messaging too many times to write it off as a mistake, a fluke, a slip of the tongue, whatever. What messaging is that, you ask? See here and here, for instance. The key messaging points:
*"'It's a lovefest here in Richmond,' McAuliffe declared during his "Ask the Governor" segment Thursday morning on WRVA-AM."
*"'We all put Virginia first,' McAuliffe said, praising Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; and Sens. Walter A. Stosch, R-Henrico and Charles J. Colgan, D-Prince Williams, the chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee."
*"I enjoy working with the legislature."
*"Gov. Terry McAuliffe praised lawmakers for working with him in a bipartisan fashion to produce a budget that safeguarded mutual priorities and serves the best interests of the commonwealth."
*"McAuliffe also said he was satisfied with the last-minute agreement on ethics reform and reiterated his position that the $100 cap on all gifts 'is a big deal.'"
*"'It's been a great session,' the governor said Friday night to a delegation of House and Senate members that included eight retiring lawmakers.
'We've all worked together. We put the partisan politics aside. ... It was great teamwork,; he added."
*"This is the model - we can work together."
Does this not-at-all-subtle happy talk of bipartisanship and how (supposedly) great it is to work across the aisle by a Democrat, coming after said Democrat got his (political) butt seriously kicked last year on Medicaid expansion and other issues, remind you of anything? How about McAuliffe's BFF Bill Clinton, following the 1994 "Republican Revolution"/"Gingrich Revolution," in which Republicans saw a net gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives and eight seats in the Senate? Before that, Bill Clinton had governed basically as a strong progressive, pushing for universal health care (aka, "Hillarycare"); a tax package that, among other things, helped balance the budget by raising tax rates on the wealthy; signing the Brady Bill into law; implementing the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, which at the time was considered progressive (believe it or not); etc. No, it wasn't all progressive prior to the Gingrich Revolution (e.g., NAFTA anyone?), but for the most part Clinton pushed for progressive policies in 1993 and 1994, until...cue scary music!
After the 1994 wipeout, of course, Clinton was forced to work with a Republican Congress for the rest of his term in office. That meant scaling back...well, pretty much anything and everthing remotely progressive, and instead turning to advisors like Republican strategist (and all-around right wingnut, as it turns out) Dick Morris to figure out how to "triangulate" himself back to relevance. Here's what I'm talking about.
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Sunday, March 1. Oh, and check out who won the CPAC straw poll in 2006 -- our old pal George Allen, who was a frontrunner for the Republicans presidential nomination until we stopped him with the "ragtag army" in 2006. :)
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Saturday, February 28. Also, see President Obama's weekly address, in which he reiterates "his commitment to middle-class economics, and to ensuring that all hard-working Americans get the secure and dignified retirement they deserve."
ProgressVA released the following statement from executive director Anna Scholl in response to passage by the General Assembly of the final conference report for HB2070 and SB1424.
"Virginians should have no doubt that our elected officials are working on our behalf. Recent events, including the high profile felony conviction of former Governor Bob McDonnell, undermine public integrity. Whether or not members of the General Assembly broke our trust, by virtue of their position they do bear responsibility for earning it back. The ethics reform legislation the General Assembly passed today is a step forward and it includes important reforms, such at a $100 gift cap, but it still falls far short of the mark. Notably, legislators refused to establish an independent and impartial ethics commission with the power to randomly audit ethics filings, investigate signed complaints, and refer findings for prosecution.
"The approved bill also carves out a loophole for privately-sponsored travel for legislators and elected officials to private conferences such as the American Legislative Exchange Council. ProgressVA has long expressed concern that Virginia lawmakers meet with corporate lobbyists behind closed doors at ALEC conferences with little disclosure. Under the new ethics bills, lobbyists would now be allowed to pay for that travel with no disclosure since the travel will not qualify as a gift. Several high profile and controversial bills in the 2015 General Assembly session bear ALEC fingerprints, including HB2238 which would have siphoned money away from public schools to private and parochial academies as well as HB1608 and HB2395 which would eliminate localities' ability to ensure local contractors are paid a living wage.
The 98-page conference report contains multiple changes from the original bills introduced in the House and Senate and we expect additional problems may come to light as legislators and advocates have time to actually read the bill."
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Friday, February 27. Also, check out the loop of John Boehner making kissy sounds at a reporter. Yep, that's the Republican Party's leader in the US House of Representatives.
On Tuesday, after reading that Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam was essentially announcing his run for Governor of Virginia in 2017, I wrote that it's waaaaaay too early for us to be starting that now. First, let's focus on the 2015 state legislative races. Then, let's focus on making sure the Democratic presidential nominee carries Virginia in 2016 (and hopefully picking up a House of Representatives seat or seats). Then, it seems to me, it will be time to turn our attention to 2017.
But certainly not now. Which is why I was happy to read that Northam had "walked that back somewhat Tuesday evening, telling The Richmond Times-Dispatch that he is in the preliminary stages of assessing whether a run is feasible and could be successful before deciding whether to seek the office." OK, cool, I've got absolutely no problem with any of that, particularly since it's 100% expected that, as Larry Sabato notes in the article, "I don't think I've ever met anyone who ran for lieutenant governor because his or her life ambition was to preside over the state Senate." And it's also fully expected that Attorney General Mark Herring will run for governor as well. But again, why on earth do we want to be starting this in February 2015?
Yet, whether we want it or not, here it comes apparently, with the first major endorsement of the election -- 2013 Democratic primary candidate for Attorney General, Justin Fairfax, endorsing Ralph Northam. What makes this one particularly interesting is that Fairfax is clearly running for Attorney General again, which means he hopes to be on the ticket of whoever the Democratic nominee for governor is -- Northam, Herring, or someone else for that matter. Given that we don't know who that nominee will be, I don't think that's a move I would ever have recommended, since it risks alienating any other potential gubernatorial nominees, but to each his own I suppose...
P.S. Just a side note, but I really wish politicians would stop referring to actual or potential political allies as their "dear friend," "great friend," or whatever, when obviously they're not.
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Thursday, February 26. Also check out Jon Stewart brilliantly skewering Faux "News" and dissecting the right-wing modus operandus (hint: lots of lies, deflection, projection, anger, insanity, etc.).
It's late, but just a few quick thoughts on this news. First, it's waaaaaaaayyyy too early to start a race for 2017, when we're just two months into 2015, and just over a year after Terry McAuliffe, Ralph Northam and Mark Herring were sworn in as Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, respectively. I mean, I agree with Northam that "if you're gonna run for governor, you can't do it at the last minute," but February 2015 is far from the "last minute" for a Democratic primary in June 2017.
Second, our focus this year, now that the General Assembly session is winding down, needs to be on taking back the State Senate, with a secondary goal of picking up seats in the House of Delegates, not on starting a contest between Northam and Herring (and whoever else) for 2017.
Third, after 2015 we need to focus on making sure the Democratic nominee for President carries Virginia in 2016, and also on hopefully beating Barbara Comstock, maybe Scott Rigell and others as well. Again, we should NOT be focusing on the 2017 governor's race when we have other, more pressing things to worry about.
Fourth, it seems to me that the AG's office is a much stronger platform to get stuff done than the LG position, unless perhaps the Senate is evenly divided and the LG gets to break a lot of ties (which hasn't been the case this year). Thus, over the past year, we've seen AG Herring in high-profile cases dealing with immigration (e.g., Virginia attorney general declares 'dreamers' eligible for in-state tuition) and marriage equality -- issues with great appeal to the "base." Perhaps that factored into why Northam felt the need to jumpstart this race so soon?
Finally, I'm not sure it bodes well for a unified Democratic Party heading into 2017 that Northam hadn't "discussed my next step" with Herring. I don't get that one at all.
RICHMOND -- If Virginia Republicans want to distract from the recent drama plaguing their ranks, hosting Rick Perry tonight is not going to help. The former Texas governor is the poster child for policies that throw working families under the bus, and has a disastrous record to show for his 14 years running Texas into the ground.
Will Rick Perry discuss the fact that just this morning, Texas cemented its dubious honor as home to the highest number of uninsured in the nation, with 24.4% of its population lacking healthcare? After all, Virginia Republicans and Rick Perry are two peas in a pod when it comes to denying quality, affordable healthcare to people in need. Perry even recently said that Texans "wanted" to be uninsured. Meanwhile, Virginia Republicans have consistently refused to close the coverage gap for over 400,000 Virginians, despite solid public support for doing so.
"If Virginia Republicans want to model themselves after Rick Perry's failed record in Texas, they're virtually sprinting down the wrong road for 2015," said Morgan Finkelstein, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia. "Rick Perry never fails to put allies and special interests before working families. His dangerous policies have no place in a new Virginia economy. By hosting Rick Perry at their keynote event, Virginia Republicans are doubling-down on their commitment to extreme ideas that hurt Virginia families and the middle class."
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Tuesday, February 24. Also, check out likely 2017 Republican candidate for statewide office Pete Snyder basically laughing off Rudy Guiliani's despicable remarks about President Obama ("I do not believe that the president loves America ... He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country." Giuliani also claimed his remarks weren't racist because Barack Obama "was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people." Oh, and Giuliani added, "From the time he was 9 years old, [Barack Obama] was influenced by Frank Marshall Davis, who was a communist.") So...yeah, that's the vitriol and slime that Pete Snyder's defending.
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Monday, February 23. Also check out President Obama speaking to the National Governors Association Dinner at the White House yesterday.
I realized yesterday that I hadn't really written anything here on the turmoil at the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV), including the departure (aka, housecleaning) of pretty much the entire RPV staff. I thought it might be helpful to provide a summary to what I've read, and what I'm hearing from my own sources. Enjoy -- with or without butter on your popcorn! :)
*Earlier today, Lynn Mitchell reported that we should expect a complete housecleaning at RPV, which she calls "the St. Valentine's Day massacre," with pretty much everyone heading out the door. According to Mitchell, the end result of this will be that the RPV is going to be left with only "a state chairman and two staffers." Mitchell adds, intriguingly, "The interesting part is going to be the names Whitbeck comes up with for replacements." Note: Whitbeck, of course, is the anti-Semitic "joke" guy, now chair of the RPV. Charming, eh?
*In its story this past Sunday, the Washington Post emphasized that all of this adds more turmoil to "a party beset by infighting and financial trouble since then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's defeat," as "the party continues to try to cope with a schism between business-centric Republicans, including Cantor, and a tea-party influenced coalition of conservatives who currently run the party's governing board." I know, I know, it couldn't happen to a better bunch. Heh.
*Also swirling around the past few months has been Tea Partier Susan Stimpson's primary of House Speaker Bill Howell, including Stimpson's accusation that "residents of [Howell's] Fredericksburg-area district recently received a four-page glossy mailer that gives the incorrect impression that the party has endorsed him." Not surprisingly, these accusations did not make powerful people like Howell happy. More broadly, what I'm hearing is that the House and Senate Republican caucuses (aka, the "establishment") are in no mood to give money to a party they see as controlled by the same Tea Partiers who are busy primarying their incumbents, and who apparently are more concerned with (far-right-wing) ideological purity than about winning elections. Hey, that works for me. :)
*As Norm Leahy of Bearing Drift wrote recently, "one thing is clear: this is now Ken Cuccinelli's party." Leahy even alluded to "the whole thing from evolving into a kind of French Directory," referring to a less-than-bright (not to mention bloody) period following the French revolution. Again, all I have to say is, "Republicans, please don't ever change!" LOL
Here are a few national and Virginia news headlines, political and otherwise, for Saturday, February 21. Also, check out President Obama's weekly address, on "the importance of continuing to grow our economy and support good-paying jobs for our workers by opening up new markets for American goods and services." As a general rule, that may be true, but it's got to be FAIR trade, with strong environmental, human rights and labor protections. Hint hint.
Hat tip to Coy Barefoot on this one, which occurred earlier this week. Coy writes the following (bolding added by me for emphasis):
Members of the Virginia Senate Finance Committee killed a bill that would have made it illegal for police to seize your property UNLESS you've been found guilty of committing a crime. That's right, currently it's LEGAL. It's called "civil forfeiture" - which is quite Orwellian- it's more properly described as government theft. The police can seize your property if you're simply suspected of committing a crime, not even proven guilty- and then good luck getting it back. Conservatives are split on the issue: some, following their own principles, see this as government power run amok- while others see it as a way of empowering law enforcement (police make BIG BIG profits off of taking the privately owned property of citizens). Anyway, here in Virginia at least, right now "civil forfeiture" is alive and well.
The bill, HB 1287, passed the House of Delegates by an overwhelming, 92-6 vote. It then was reported from the Senate Courts of Justice committee on an 11-2 vote. Last but not least, it was "passed by indefinitely," on a 9-5 vote, in the Senate Finance committee. Huh? Can anyone explain to me how it's possibly constitutional for the government to seize your property when you're still "innocent until PROVEN guilty" of a crime? I really don't get it.
P.S. This article explains: "Police and prosecutors opposed the bill, while several conservative and liberal groups backed it. A letter in support of the bill on Monday was signed by Claire Guthrie Gastanaga of the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and two officials with the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm."
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