Creigh Deeds: Session report

We are near the crossover of the 2012 session.  The session has moved by rapidly though many of the big issues remain unresolved.  We are no closer on a budget compromise today than we were when the session started.  We are still looking at a budget that makes deep cuts in human services, underfunds K-12 education, and puts enormous burdens on our local governments and their taxpayers.

A number of controversial issues have come to a head the past few weeks, and I can give you my take on a few of them:

· A bill passed requiring an ultrasound be performed prior to an abortion.  I voted no because I think these issues are best left between patients and physicians.  I am not willing to impose the General Assembly’s view with respect to a medical procedure that adds expense and may or may not be necessary.

· The Senate also passed Senate Bill 1 to require a voter to have an ID.  To some this might sound like a common sense measure, but the legislation will unnecessarily inconvenience voters, particularly those who may not have proper identification, whether they are young, old, or poor.

· This week I pulled my bill to abolish the Court of Appeals.  While the bill generated a lot of interest among lawyers, I introduced it simply to make a statement.  We hear a lot of talk from politicians about making government smaller and reducing costs, but seldom do we actually accomplish that goal.  For example, a bill was introduced on behalf of the Governor to consolidate or eliminate dozens of agencies and boards.  The bill, if fully implemented, is projected to save $2 to $3 million.  Abolition of the Court of Appeals would save $8.5 million every year.  Although some thought the idea radical, our justice system functioned well prior to the establishment of the Court of Appeals in the mid 1980s.  During this time of frugality, it makes more sense to abolish the Court of Appeals, which has not proven its value, than to cut services to children and the poor.

· The proposed eminent domain amendment to the Constitution of Virginia will be one of the most significant policy decisions we make this year.  As I write, the final vote on the measure has been delayed for several days as both sides try to marshal votes and fine tune the language of a companion bill.  I support the amendment and will vote to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide this fall.  Its passage will ensure property is only condemned for public purposes and that landowners are fairly compensated.

· We also considered legislation to increase the number of women- and minority-owned businesses contracting with the state.  In Virginia we have a SWAM program, which gives a preference to these businesses.  Despite the program, women- and minority-owned businesses only receive about 2.5 percent of state contracts.  If we are to truly be a Commonwealth of opportunity for every citizen, we have to find a way to increase the share of the state’s work going to women- and minority-owned businesses.  The legislation passed out of the Senate with my support.

· I introduced legislation this year to allow Rockbridge County to keep its landfill open for two additional years.  The landfill, which has not presented any environmental problems, was due to be shut down at the end of this year under existing law.  I am pleased to report that working with Delegate Ben Cline and DEQ we have entered into an agreement whereby the landfill will remain open for an additional two years.  Because we accomplished our purpose, I struck the bill.

· A bill passed approving adoption procedures that essentially institutionalizes discrimination based all things except race, religion, and country of origin.  Because I was concerned about the precedent this matter set, I voted no.

One of the most divisive issues, however, is the repeal of the one gun a month law. Frankly, I know many of my friends and supporters will disagree with my vote in favor of the repeal.  Anyone familiar with my voting history or my public statements on this matter cannot be surprised.

When the law passed in 1993 I voted no because I thought it would have primarily symbolic value and not effectively deter crime.  I am not convinced that restricting the right to purchase firearms of those who obey the law deters crime.  People intent on violating the law are going to find a way to obtain the weapons they want, so the law only curtails behavior of law-abiding citizens.  Over the years, nothing has convinced me otherwise.  I have not seen empirical data to suggest the law has prevented people intent on committing crime from obtaining weapons.

The Second Amendment guarantees gun possession and ownership as a constitutionally protected personal right.  Limiting that right is a serious matter.  I do not own a handgun and have no desire to purchase one, so I understand the sentiment of proponents of the law inquiring why someone needs more than 12 guns per year.  However, I also cannot understand why one would need to buy six a year, or 24 a year.  Any limit set on this matter is arbitrary.

The reality is, under current law, people can already purchase more than one handgun a month.  During the 19 years after its enactment, numerous exceptions have been granted.  Among those exceptions are collectors, law enforcement officers, private sale and antique purchases, concealed carry permit holders, and private security companies.  In addition, nothing in the law prevents someone from purchasing unlimited numbers of rifles or shotguns.

People tend to talk in platitudes about the one gun a month law.  Either “the law ended gun running from the Commonwealth” or “it was an unreasonable limitation on gun ownership.”  The facts on the gun running claim are not clear.  I have not seen any empirical data suggesting the law significantly reduced the number of guns originating from Virginia involved in crime in other states.  In fact, the anecdotal evidence is mixed at best.   Some will argue that guns involved in crime from New York still come from Virginia; others will argue the rates have diminished.  There is simply not a convincing case to be made that the law effectively deterred gun-related violence.

After consideration of all of these factors, combined with the vast improvement in our background checks with the advancement of technology, I do not believe the law needs to stay on the books.  As I have said before, our focus should be on measures to promote economic activity, and this bill has distracted us from the real work of the General Assembly.  If we really want to reduce crime and improve the safety of our citizens, we need to invest in K-12 education, mental health services, and public safety.  A commitment to providing a top quality education to every student in the Commonwealth, to increasing access for mental health treatment, and to ensuring we have enough law enforcement officers on our streets will help grow our economy and reduce crime.  I think this is something we can all agree on.

Creigh Deeds is a member of the Virginia State Senate.


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