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Ken Plum: Overreach

If a single word or phrase can describe a General Assembly session, the 2012 meeting of the state legislature would be known for “overreach.” Governor McDonnell and Lieutenant Governor Bolling warned the Republican majority before the session got underway that there was a need for legislators to be careful to not overreach with their new-found power. Few paid attention to this good advice until the legislature was caught in the mire of overreaching.

An example of overreaching was in the Senate where the election outcome left the body equally divided with 20 Democrat and 20 Republican senators. The Republicans claimed victory because the vote to break ties would be cast by Republican Lieutenant Governor Bolling. In reorganizing the Senate to remove all Democrats from leadership positions including committee chairmanships, the majority overlooked the fact that the Constitution prohibits the Lieutenant Governor from voting on the biennium budget, the item that reflects the most compromises. Rather than organize as the Senate did in the past when there was equal division of party membership by sharing leadership positions, or as the House did when it was equally divided by having co-chairs of committees, the new Senate leaders overreached and claimed all the authority for themselves and found that they had no one with which to negotiate when there was a deadlock in the vote on the budget. Until the overreach on leadership is resolved there is little likelihood that a budget resolution will be reached.

There are many other examples of overreach. The gun rights advocates were successful in getting the one-handgun-per-month limitation repealed and signed by the Governor. The necessity of the repeal is lost on most people. There is an overreach to have absolutely no reasonable limitation on guns which is where we are headed in Virginia. There has been a particularly strong reaction to the repeal from other states that had been the recipients of guns that were readily available for purchase in Virginia in the past.

The anti-abortion advocates overreached in mandating that women having an abortion be required to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound until tremendous public outcry caused the Governor to get involved and to amend the bill to require the less-invasive abdominal ultrasound. Even that requirement was opposed by me and others as an unnecessary government overreach into the private lives of women and as being medically unnecessary. Women and others who came to the State Capitol to protest the overreach of the legislature on women’s rights issues were met with more than a hundred police, state police in riot gear, and other police with camouflage uniforms and automatic weapons. Some protesters were arrested for sitting on the capitol steps rather than to stay in the limited area in which they were approved to protest. The overreach on the part of the police acting within the narrow regulations on protests was widely criticized. Even the conservative Richmond Times-Dispatch editorialized that “events at the Capitol of Virginia strain a state with a reputation as the cradle of democracy.”

Whether the lessons of overreaching that were obvious in this session of the legislature have been learned will not be known until the General Assembly meets again next year. Until then we will have to live with this year’s excesses.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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