Last edited: February 21, 2005

Bad Bills in Richmond

Connection Newspapers, February 18, 2005
7913 Westpark Drive, McLean, Va. 22102

By Patricia S. Ticer, State Senator (D-30)

All bills were completed on the Senate floor last week and sent over to the House, for referral to committee and consideration on the floor. By the same token, all bills from the House are on our side for consideration. When I received multiple e-mails last week about the infamous droopy drawers legislation, I wrote back that I agreed the bill was inappropriate, but that it was not the worst of the bad bills we will be acting on. I was pleased that the Senate Courts of Justice Committee held a special meeting to take up the droopy drawers bill, and quickly put it to sleep so that Virginia would get out of the international spotlight of ridicule.

Last week I said I would tell you the final outcome of two bad bills sponsored by Senator [William] Mims of Loudoun County. The first was a bill prohibiting the local governments of Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax and Albemarle County to ask for or receive contributions of affordable housing as part of a zoning or special use permit process. We lost in our attempt to make the bill more friendly to our long-accepted processes in these localities. Hopefully, the Governor will be willing to help before the session is over. The other bill is Senate Bill 1305 which was universally opposed by every denomination it affected. These included Episcopalian, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Lutheran, AME Zion and Orthodox. The bill would have interjected state law in the polity of the church and the way hierarchical churches hold property. It would have given congregations that break away from their denomination leverage to retain control of church property when long-standing church law has vested ownership in the "mother church"—in the Episcopal denomination it is the diocese. This would effectively change the structure from hierarchical to congregational in one act. After a great deal of lobbying by the churches enough votes were accrued to kill the bill, but when the patron suggested sending it back to the committee which was not meeting again, the Senate agreed. One way or the other, it is now off the table for 2005. I have no illusions however that it is gone forever.

BEFORE WE FINISHED our Senate business, I tried to have an illegal law taken out of state code. Adultery is punishable in Virginia with a $250 fine. For some acts you could receive a 10-year prison sentence. Though rarely enforced, state laws involving sex in private have remained on the books for 300 years. In a ruling Jan. 14 Virginia's highest court ruled that the law which carries a fine of $500 for offenders who have sex outside of marriage is unconstitutional. In June 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Lawrence v. Texas that laws governing non-commercial, private sexual activity between consenting adults are an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Even Justice Clarence Thomas stated that sodomy laws are "uncommonly silly." The Court stated that private acts of sodomy "are a form of Liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the protection by this clause extends to intimate choices by unmarried as well as married persons." A violation of Virginia's Sodomy Law is a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years. While it is seldom enforced, it is used to justify discrimination against gay and lesbian Virginians—i.e. if you are gay or lesbian you engage in sodomy, therefore you are a felon. Because it is a subject that makes legislators uncomfortable, they handle it by killing attempts to handle it in committee.

Not everyone agrees that the state's laws are antiquated. Victoria Cobb, executive director of the Family Foundation, a conservative advocacy group based in Richmond, said the laws help reaffirm the values of marriage. My bill died in committee and never made it to the floor of the Senate.

TWO WEEKS AGO the coalition of Asian and Pacific Americans was in Richmond to host a reception and to familiarize the legislature with their issues. The day marked the coalition's first legislative day, which organizers hope to make an annual event. The day's events built on the recent work of the Virginia Asian Advisory Board, created in 2001 but not re-activated until 2003. The state's ability to deliver services to the Asian community is made difficult by the wide range of languages and cultures that are considered Asian. The 17-member advisory board was seeking $200,000 to fund outreach to Asian communities. They are also seeking the establishment of an office for Asian-American affairs. I had budget amendments in to secure the money and the office, but they were not included in the Senate Budget.

The House budget has yet another attempt to fully phase out the 30 percent left of the car tax—they have no specifics on how to make this happen without totally ruining the carefully honed compromise of last year. The recently regained financial stability which allowed Virginia to redeem its Triple A bond rating would be jeopardized by diverting more than $1 billion annually from vital services, such as education and law enforcement, to a program with ever-escalating costs. This is all about political maneuvering to set up issues for the upcoming elections. It has always been driven by politics, in my opinion, regardless of fiscal realities, and some think it is the height of cynicism. There will be more about this subject as the budget compromise moves forward.

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