The 2016 Virginia General Assembly will open in a week, on Jan. 13.
Last year’s session was orderly and business-like. Looks like the legislature will make up for it this time around.
For starters, the Republicans in the Assembly apparently are poised to do something the legislature hasn’t done in 115 years – remove a Supreme Court justice. If the GOP leaders stay true to their word, Justice Jane Marum Roush will be looking for a job in the near future. The reason for Roush’s removal? Not for malfeasance or failure to do the job. For political spite and to teach Gov. Terry McAuliffe a lesson about who makes the decisions on judges.
Last summer, before appointing Roush to an open seat, McAuliffe apparently didn’t call Speaker Bill Howell or Sen. Tommy Norment to make sure Roush would be OK with them and that she could sail through come January. Throw in some mutual partisan trash-talking during the abbreviated special session and some mumbo-jumbo about the Assembly still being in session and you have Roush tossed into a world of hurt.
Go back to the original no-phone call by McAuliffe. Roush left a circuit court seat in Fairfax where she had served with distinction since 1993 and McAuliffe didn’t do the basic legwork to insure she would keep her seat on the court. The equities indicate the governor owes it to Roush to fight for her, or to find a way to keep her on the court. Make some deal, governor. Roush is too good a jurist to be tossed off the court in her prime.
If the unseemly fight over a seat on a court that prides itself on seemliness isn’t enough, you can scroll through all the pre-filed bills for the 2016 session and find fighting-point hot button bills on the social issues dear to both sides of the political spectrum.
Here are some of the bills that you are sure to hear about:
Same-sex marriage. Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, has filed a short-and-simple bill, House Bill 5, that repeals two statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriages and civil unions or other arrangements between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage. Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, seeks the same result in Senate Bill 10. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges last June invalidates those proscriptions, but you can count on a fight on this one.
Conscience clause for clerks. And even though the highest court in the land says same-sex marriage is legal, a local clerk who disagrees would be able to bail on his or her official duties under SB 40, sponsored by Sen Charles Carrico, R-Galax. The bill provides that a clerk or deputy clerk shall not be required to issue a marriage license if the clerk has an objection to issuing the license on personal, ethical, moral or religious grounds. Call this one the Kim Davis Relief Act, in honor of the Kentucky clerk who made headlines last year.
Religious freedom. Carrico also has filed another bill, SB 41, that looks out for ministers and others who can solemnize a marriage. This measure provides that no individual authorized to solemnize any marriage shall be required to do so and no religious organization shall be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization of any marriage if the action would cause the individual or organization to violate a sincerely held religious belief. SB 41 also insures that there is no liability for that refusal.
Ultrasound prior to abortion. Del. Jeoin Ward, D-Hampton, and Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, have filed bills (HB 43 and SB 53, respectively) that repeal the statutory requirement that a woman contemplating an abortion first have an ultrasound. Passed in 2012, this approach was used by conservative anti-abortion groups across the country.
Gun rights. Here’s a tactic you don’t see too often: the legislature seeking to codify a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Del. Mark Ware, R-Fredericksburg, wants to see the Assembly codify District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008). Ware’s HB 49 would make it clear that the right to keep and bear arms conferred by the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia is an individual right not connected to militia service.
Native Americans Day. Columbus Day is a federal holiday has been celebrated on the second Monday in October for years. HB 144, sponsored by Del.-Elect Paul Krizek, an Alexandria Democrat, would not change that; instead, the second Monday in October would also be Native Americans Day, celebrating the “great Native American leaders who contributed to the history of our Commonwealth.”
Equal Rights Amendment. Two different Senate resolutions (SJR 1, offered by Sen.-Elect Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, and SJR 11, from Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg) would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ERA, first proposed in 1972, gained adoption in 35 of the 38 needed states before the time limit for its passage expired. Proponents cite the adoption of the 27th Amendment on congressional salaries, finally approved in 1992 (some 203 years after its introduction), as an indication that time limits are irrelevant.
Decriminalization of marijuana. For the second year in a row, Ebbin has proposed a bill that would decriminalize simple possession of marijuana, SB 104. It got a lot of headlines last year, but it got nowhere on Capitol Hill.
These are the bills filed just before Christmas, about 200 in the House and 100 in the Senate. You know thousands more are coming. Stay tuned.