Over on social media, far-right Virginia State Senator Bill DeSteph (R) is busy claiming that he “has prevailed in his efforts to compel the General Assembly’s Democrat [sic] majority leadership to provide office space for in-person, public access to legislators.” DeSteph further claims that “[t]his is a huge victory for the First Amendment and for open access to government for all Virginians.” DeSteph’s argument is that the “decision to close the Pocahontas Building was a clear violation of the First Amendment and communicated an eagerness by Senator Locke, Speaker Filler-Corn, and the Northam Administration to shut out public input in the legislative process.”
The big question, of course, is whether ANY of this is true. Sadly, given DeSteph’s track record over the years – see He’s Just a Genie in a Bottle…Virginia State Sen. Bill DeSteph (R) Wore Costume with “Rub Me” Lamp “Protruding from Crotch”, “Bad on all sorts of levels” – GOP Sen. Bill DeSteph sparks backlash over another conflict of interest , Virginia State Sen. Bill “Rub Me Lamp” DeSteph (R) Shared Video by Anti-Muslim Activist on His Official Facebook Page, Bill DeSteph: “Muslems Build Mosques to Represent Islamic Supremacy Over Their Enemy”, etc. – it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt. And in this case, that’s the case yet again. For starters, check out the following (click to enlarge) from Susan Clarke Schaar, Clerk of the Senate, emailed yesterday:
Following the hearing in Federal court yesterday it was determined that to ensure the health and safety of the constituents of Virginia, essential legislative staff and members the Pocahontas Building and the Capitol will remain closed for the 202 session. T[h]e buildings will only be open to current members and credentialed legislative staff.
The Clerk of the House and I will explore possibilities of space in close proximity to the Pocahontas Building or the Science Museum that would afford meeting space for members to meet with their constituents. A reservation system will be set to reserve rooms. A member may reserve a room for one hour. No more than ten people may be in the meeting with the member and EVERYONE must wear a mask or face shield. Failure to follow these guidelines will result in loss of the meeting space privilege.
Hmmm…does that sound like what DeSteph was saying? Nope, didn’t think so. Also, see below for one-page ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which says:
“For the reasons stated during the on-the-record call with counsel on December 30, 2020, the Court hereby DENIES Plaintiff’s Motion (ECF No. 10). Additionally, for the reasons stated during the call, the Court FINDS that Plaintiff’s proposed witnesses Dr. Roxann Robinson, David LaRock, Meg Graham and Carrie Coyner are precluded from testifying during the hearing on December 31, 2020.”
In short, Clerks agreed to find space for State Senators to meet with groups smaller than 10 at the Science Museum and/or near the Pocahontas Building, as long as everyone wears masks. Sen. DeSteph wanted the Pocahontas Building opened; the judge said NO. Finally, as you can see below in the “Amended Joint Stipulation of Facts”:
- “On December 2, 2020, Senate Clerk Susan Schaar advised legislators, including Plaintiff, that ‘due to the rise in Covid-19 numbers’ the Pocahontas Building would only be open for
credentialed legislative employees and current legislators during the upcoming Regular Session of the General Assembly”
- “Some of the hallways of the Pocahontas Building are only 4 feet wide.”
- “The virus that causes Covid-19 is extremely contagious and potentially fatal. It spreads through close person-to-person contact or by contact with the respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. People who do not have symptoms or know they are infected can still spread Covid-19.”
- “In Virginia, as of December 22, 2020, there have been more than 314,000 cases of Covid19 across the Commonwealth, and there have been nearly 5,000 cases of Covid-19 in Richmond City alone.”
- “Indoor areas pose greater risk of transmission of Covid-19 than outdoor areas because of the way the virus spreads through respiratory droplets from an infected person.”
- “The Pocahontas Building remained closed to the public throughout the entirety of the 2020 Special Session.”
- “For the 2021 General Assembly session, the 40-member Senate of Virginia has arranged to again convene in the large conference center space at the Science Museum of Virginia. As in the 2020 Veto Session and Special Session, the public will not be permitted to attend in person.”
- “Sen. DeSteph first brought his concern about the issue of the closure of the Pocahontas Building to the attention of the Senate Clerk when he informed her that he was filing this lawsuit.” (That’s right, DeSteph stipulated that he never tried to talk to the Clerk before he filed his lawsuit, so basically the whole thing was a grandstand.)
- “One Virginia senator has been unwilling to wear a mask in the Pocahontas Building.”
- “Senator DeSteph has had and continues to have access to the Pocahontas Building.”
So…yeah, DeSteph claimed that he achieved “a huge victory for the First Amendment and for open access to government for all Virginians.” Except…nope, he definitely did NOT do any of that, given that “the Court hereby DENIES Plaintiff’s Motion.” But whatever, details details…LOL.
UPDATE Saturday 1 pm – I’m informed that DeSteph’s lawsuit was “tossed,” but also that the order I posted – which was sent to me by an attorney – isn’t the one that shows that what DeSteph’s saying is NOT what the court order says. If and when I receive the actual order that denies DeSteph’s request to reopen the Pocahontas Building, I’ll post it here.