What’s Happening in Richmond

Information accurate as of February 17, 2011

With just a week to go in the 2011 General Assembly legislative, there is bad news, good news, and uncertainty.

First, the bad. On Monday February 14, three men on a subcommittee in the House of Delegates (Republican Bill Janis, Republican Jackson Miller and independent Lacey Putney) blithely killed the ERA resolution that had been carefully marshaled through the first half of the session by Virginia NOW President Diana Egozcue. The resolution for Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment actually passed the Democratic-controlled Senate – with all Democrats voting for it along with two fair-minded Republicans, Walter Stosch (who represents part of Goochland, Henrico and Richmond City) and Harry Blevins (who represents part of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach).

Diana did a great job in organizing support: she set up a website – http://virginiaeranet.com – with the kind of useful information advocates need, enlisted as patrons Delegate Mark Sickles and VA NOW member Senator Patsy Ticer to sponsor the resolution, and spoke to virtually all 140 members! The fourth member of that subcommittee who was present that morning- Delegate Lionell Spruill, a Democrat – voted for the resolution and promised to stick with us next session, when we try again. (Two members were absent – Republican Rob Bell, who didn’t even show up, and Republican Mark Cole, who left early.) Immediately after the vote, we began strategizing on how to make more progress next session – because as a nation, we will all benefit when women have constitutionally guaranteed equal rights.

Perhaps if our elections were more competitive, we would have had more votes for the ERA (and fewer egregious attacks on reproductive rights). Which brings us to redistricting. Basically, because the once-every-ten-years process of redistricting is controlled by the political parties, politicians pick their voters rather than the other way around. Most politicians don’t want to upset the apple cart and try to draw lines to create safe districts, where there is little or no competition (except in the primaries) and incumbents readily win. The deal this year apparently is that the Democratic Senate will draw its districts and the Republican House will draw its districts, although Gov. McDonnell – to fulfill a campaign promise – has appointed a bipartisan commission to recommend plans that meet reapportionment goals. There’s still a chance that redistricting will be fairer this year than previously, and the League of Women Voters of Virginia continues to educate and lobby for this.

The annual Republican attempt to close reproductive health clinics that perform abortions by singling them out for unnecessary regulations passed the House of Delegates. Proponents of this legislation – called Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers (TRAP) – argue that they are merely concerned with women’s health and safety but they ignore existing safety data and rules, regulations, and state investigatory powers that already apply. Other attempts to restrict reproductive rights include a bill stating that the rights and protections of personhood begin at conception and an abortion ban bill to prohibit even private health insurance plans from offering abortion services when the new insurance exchange goes into effect in 2014 (as part of health care reform). The abortion ban bill in the House of Delegates (Ben Cline was the patron) was so poorly worded that it would also prohibit coverage of certain medical procedures related to miscarriages. On Thursday, February 17, the Senate Education and Health Committee let all three bills die. All ten Democrats voted to let the bills “pass by indefinitely” and all five Republicans voted to pass them. Legislative VP Marj Signer spoke against the bills. Another bill, to revoke the requirement for the HPV vaccine for girls entering 6th grade, also failed; NOW does not have a policy position on this vaccine.

There is good news on medically accurate sex education. Yes, inaccurate information is being offered in some schools.) The Family Life Education bill (SB 967), patroned by Senator Ralph Northam, passed the Senate by 24-16 – all Democrats and four Republicans (Tommy Norment, Fred Quayle, Frank Wagner and John Watkins). This bill – which requires that any family life education curriculum taught in our public schools be medically accurate – is now in the House, where the Pro-Choice Coalition, of which we are a member, will lobby for it.

Progress is likely on the safety of women and girls. In the wake of the murder of UVA star athlete Yeardley Love, numerous protective order bills were introduced.All of the House bills were “rolled into” HB 2063 (patron Delegate Rob Bell) and all the Senate bills into SB 1222 (patron Senator George Barker). Both bills include recommendations endorsed by the Crime Commission that expand access to protective orders for victims of sexual assault, stalking, and domestic violence (including victims of dating violence). Other positive bills have been introduced by VA NOW member Delegate Charniele Herring, Senator Emmett Hanger, Delegate David Albo, and Senator Fred Quayle. The Virginia Domestic and Sexual Violence Action Alliance has done a stellar job in working with legislators.

Legislation backed by both Republicans and Democrats to curb trafficking in humans for commercial sex and labor continues to move forward. Many people are not aware that Northern Virginia is a hotbed of sex trafficking. Trafficking U.S. citizens and foreign nationals – largely women – for sex takes place in commercial-front massage parlors, closed-network residential brothels, truck stops, and on the streets, controlled by pimps. Increasingly, victims are advertised on internet sites like Craigslist and then put in hotels or motels where customers make use of them. Persons who are trafficked for labor work in agriculture, nail salons, domestic servitude and as traveling sales crews selling candy or magazine subscriptions. These victims face a horrific life in which they are threatened, beaten, raped, starved, locked up, or psychologically manipulated – all for the financial profit of traffickers. This is modern day slavery.
Three bills are active:
HB 2190, patroned by Delegate Adam Ebbin and which has passed the House and Senate, would require the Department of Social Services to develop a plan for the delivery of services to victims of human trafficking – services that are necessary for victims to recover, such as housing, medical care, education, job training, and legal aid.
SB 1453, patroned by Senator Stephen Newman, would require the Department of Criminal Justice Services (with the Office of the Attorney General) to advise law enforcement agencies and attorneys for the Commonwealth regarding human trafficking offenses using the existing criminal statutes. This passed the House and is in Senate Courts of Justice.
HJ 561, patroned by Delegate Kaye Kory, would designate January 11 as Global Human Trafficking Awareness Day and is currently in a Senate Rules subcommittee.

We have also been actively following bills on gun safety, restoration of voting rights for former felons, and more.

Thank you for all you do every day to advance equality.
Marj Signer, Legislative V-P
Email me at vanow.legislativevp@gmail.com

Learn more about the ERA at http://virginiaeranet.com/

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