The House easily approved a proposed amendment, but the prospects for the measure were much more challenging in the Senate. Just two weeks ago, Senate Republicans had to invoke a parliamentary maneuver that had not been tried in decades just to get the Senate to consider the amendment. That effort failed on an 18-to-22 party-line vote, with all Senate Democrats voting against having the Senate even hear the bill.
This week, the results were very different. When the House version of the amendment, House Joint Resolution 693 (HJ 693), came to the Senate, it was approved by a one-vote margin by the same subcommittee that had previously rejected the Senate version. Then, it was approved by another one-vote margin by the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, which two weeks before had refused to even hear the Senate version of the amendment.
On Tuesday, the Senate approved HJ 693 by a vote of 35-to-5, with 17 Senate Democrats joining the 18 Senate Republicans who had supported the amendment all along. As with all proposed constitutional amendments, the measure has to be approved by the General Assembly again next year, and then will be put before the voters to win final approval.
The approval of an amended version of Senate Bill 924 was a testimony to legislative perseverance and persistence. Twenty years ago, then-Delegate (now Senator) Emmett Hanger of Augusta sponsored a bill that would require abortion clinics meet the same standards as facilities that perform outpatient surgical procedures. Regardless of your views on abortion, requiring facilities that perform this procedure to be safe and in accord with appropriate health standards just makes sense. Most states already require abortion clinics to adhere to standards similar to the ones being proposed in Virginia. Yet, this measure has been thwarted at some point in the process every year it came before the General Assembly.
This year, proponents of the proposal proved more resourceful. The Senate Education and Health Committee killed both the House and Senate versions of the proposal on 10-to-5 party-line votes, preventing the measure from coming to the Senate floor for a vote. But, those supporting the measure in the House placed the bill’s provisions onto another bill that deals with the delivery of healthcare services as an amendment. That meant the measure was brought directly to the Senate floor for a vote, without having to go back to the Senate Committee.
The bill passed in dramatic fashion, with two Democratic Senators joining all eighteen Republicans in voting for the bill, with Lt. Governor Bolling casting a rare vote to break the tie in favor of approval. The bill is headed to Governor McDonnell’s desk, and he has indicated his intention to sign it.
As of this writing, the budget conferees are still negotiating proposed budget amendments. We still have not reached an agreement with the House of Delegates. We hope such an agreement will be forthcoming. We are all fighting to make sure that we distribute the state’s financial resources wisely for maximum benefit to the citizens of the Commonwealth.
As covered in my earlier columns, I patroned several bills that were passed by the House and Senate and they have now gone to the Governor for his signature. In addition, I was honored to submit a Joint Commending Resolution, along with Delegate Kathy Byron, honoring the Altavista Combined Boys Cross Country Team on winning the Group A Championship. I submitted another Joint Commending Resolution, along with many other colleagues to include Delegates Charles Poindexter, Danny Marshall and Don Merricks, honoring Frances Hallam Hurt, the “Grand Dame” of Chatham and Pittsylvania, on the occasion of her 95th Birthday. I patroned several Joint Memorial Resolutions celebrating the lives of Alex Ernandes, Moneta; LTC John Woodell, Jr., USAF, Brookneal; Rev. McKinley J. Hamilton, Rocky Mount; and Leonard Coleman, Altavista.
Visitors trying to see their state government in action continued to make their way to the Capitol, visiting us for this final week of session. Visitors from Franklin County included Melvin Adams, Rick Huff, Russ Johnson, Bill Brush, Karol Armbuster, Douglas Armbuster and Dillon Guthrie. Pittsylvania County visitors who stopped by were Nik Balenger, Avery Ferguson, Sadie Stanfield, James Stanfield, and David Harrison.
It has been a real honor to serve the citizens of the 19th Senate district here in Richmond, but our work is just beginning. Throughout the year, I will be continuing to work hard in the district to improve the economic climate of our area and to promote job growth.