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Democrats Accuse GOP of ‘Divisive’ Agenda

February 12, 2012

By Claire Porter
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Facing a torrent of what they consider “bad bills,” Democrats in the General Assembly acknowledge that they do not have enough votes to stop socially conservative legislation on issues like abortion, gay rights, voter identification requirements and drug testing of welfare recipients.

House and Senate Democrats gathered Thursday to criticize the wave of “divisive social-issue legislative overreach” they say Republicans are perpetrating in Richmond.

“We simply don’t have the numbers to stop misplaced priorities and leadership overreach,” said the House Democratic leader, Delegate David Toscano of Charlottesville.

“It’s not just one bill; it’s really the critical mass of all of them that wakes you up. I hope the governor trims some back or vetoes some of these bills, but I don’t have much hope for that.”

The chairman of the House Republican Caucus, Delegate Timothy Hugo of Fairfax, rejected Democratic assertions that the GOP is pushing a divisive agenda.

“Fewer than 3 percent of the bills passed so far in the House are what the Democrats are calling ‘divisive,’ ” Hugo said.

But the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Delegate Mark Sickles of Franconia, said those types of bills are generating the most debate on the House floor and the majority of constituent responses.

Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, echoed that sentiment: “The Republicans are on a values crusade.”

Democrats want to shift the political focus to providing money for education, “so that localities don’t have to consider raising real estate taxes to fund their schools,” Toscano said.

However, Democrats don’t have the votes to set the agenda in either legislative chamber.

That’s especially true in the House, where the 32 Democrats are eclipsed by 67 Republicans plus an independent who usually sides with the GOP. The Senate is split, 20-20, between Democrats and Republicans; however, that chamber’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, is a Republican and can cast tie-breaking votes.

As a result, Democrats complain, Republicans have had their way on issues such as:
Revoking the state law that prohibits the purchase of more than one handgun every 30 days. (On mostly party-line votes, both the House and Senate have passed bills to rescind the one-gun-a-month limit.)

Requiring women who want an abortion to first have an ultrasound. The woman then would have an opportunity to view ultrasound image of the fetus or hear the fetal heartbeat. (The Senate has passed a bill containing the ultrasound requirement; the House may vote on similar legislation this week.)

Prohibiting people who can’t show sufficient identification at the polls on Election Day from casting an official ballot. Currently, such people can vote if they sign an affidavit swearing that they are a registered voter. (Both legislative chambers have passed bills regarding voter identification requirements.)

Issues that the Democrats say represent “misplaced priorities”

Prohibition of Foreign Legal Systems:

House Bill 825, proposed by Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, would prohibit the application of foreign law in Virginia courts. Some believe it is intended to target Sharia, or Islamic law.

“There are very serious issues about how businesses operate if this law is passed,” Toscano said. “Business wants certainty. They want to know what is the legal environment in which they work, and that’s why I think businesses are very troubled about this bill.”

He believes that with this bill, GOP legislators are trying to remove the judiciary’s power to decide which laws to apply when dealing with foreign contracts.

Muslims and Jews also oppose HB 825. The All Dulles Area Muslim Society, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League have come out against the bill.

The House Courts of Justice Committee voted last week to postpone consideration of HB 825 until next year.

Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients:

Republican legislators filed eight bills requiring public assistance recipients and applications to undergo substance abuse testing. The House legislation has been postponed until 2013; the Senate legislation has cleared a committee and is ready for a floor vote.

Sickles said Republicans have a double standard when it comes to people who benefit from government programs.

“I think there’s potential for a lot of hypocrisy here that they are going to test every person for drugs but will hand out tax credits like candy,” Sickles said.

He said Virginia’s welfare benefits are among the most meager in the country.

“People can’t help that they’re poor,” Sickles said. “Those welfare benefits are for the children, and the benefits are really, extraordinarily small.”

He said there are easier ways to make sure parents are not drug addicts – ways that are not “an affront our basic sense of fairness.”

Adoption Discrimination against Gays:

On Thursday, the Senate approved a bill to allow private adoption and foster-care agencies to turn away parents for reasons including religious faith or sexual orientation. The bill passed by a 22-18 vote.

Earlier in the week, the House passed its version of the adoption legislation containing the so-called “conscience clause.” The vote was a 71-28.

Legislation Targeting Abortion:

Republicans introduced several anti-abortion measures this session. They include legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (Senate Bill 637); requiring that insurance companies that cover abortions also offer policies that do not (House Bill 1174); giving full personhood rights to a fertilized egg at the moment of conception (House Bill 1); and ending state subsidies for poor women to abort fetuses with serious birth defects (House Bill 62).

Republicans say bills like the ones mandating ultrasounds are based on legitimate concerns toward women’s health. But most Democrats dispute that.

“I hope no one here is dumb enough to believe this is about women’s health,” said the Senate minority leader, Sen. Dick Saslaw of Fairfax. “They couldn’t care less about a woman’s health.”


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