Speaking of education choice, yesterday was our annual lobby day. This year’s theme was education choice and we added a rally in Capitol Square as well. The media attention was excellent. Starting the day was an interview on WRVA’s Richmond’s Morning News With Jimmy Barrett, but with an adversarial guest host, Juan Conde of WRIC-TV, sitting in for the decidedly conservative Mr. Barrett. Victoria Cobb, our president, took it all in stride, even when Mr. Conde misunderstood, shall we say, the issue, and claimed HB 2314, if passed, would give “our” money to businesses! The Washington Post also covered the rally on its Virginia Politics Blog, and a Google search reveals publications from The India Times to Forbes picked up the Post’s post, as well as various state television and print media.
Posts Tagged ‘HB 2314’
Bringing at least a modicum of school choice and education freedom long has been a goal of reform minded people who realize that the government-run education monopoly is holding back academic achievement. This Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee has a chance to show its open mindedness and independence from the education establishment when it votes on HB 2314, patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie’s (R-72, Henrico).
The bill establishes a tax credit for businesses donating to non-profit organizations providing scholarships to free and reduced lunch students (family of four earning less than $40,793 per year). Despite fierce opposition from the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, the bill passed the House of Delegates 54-45 this week.
The modesty of this bill is testimony to how tenacious and powerful the Educrat establishment is in Richmond. It will fight to the death anything that hints at cracking its monopoly or reforms it from within. This is no exaggeration. The Educrats even are resisting a bill to provide for more physical education (HB 1644), patroned by Delegate John O’Bannon (R-73, Henrico). (See Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog.)
On the heels of yesterday’s well-attended Family Foundation Day at the Capitol and rally focused on school choice, we think there is real momentum to pass HB 2314. It’s certainly well passed time, considering the state of public education in certain areas of the state and for certain families that are trapped with no option but to attend an inadequate public school.
Similar scholarship programs in Pennsylvania and Florida have been huge successes. Florida’s program is a prime example, where demand for a program started in 2001 has grown from $50 million to $88 million, providing scholarships for more than 33,000 low-income children.
The bill is designed to avoid the nefarious ”negative fiscal impact” to the state. In fact, the fiscal impact will be all positive. Florida’s program, for example, saved that state $36 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year alone, according to the Florida Office of Program Analysis and Government Accountability.
In Florida and elsewhere, thousands of children have been given opportunities for a better education through scholarships created because funding is available. Despite cries of “taking money from children” in public schools, the scholarship programs in other states have in no way negatively affected public schools.
Unfortunately, the Senate Finance Committee has been very hostile to any legislation that provides education freedom to families. Last year, it killed a similar bill by a 9-6 vote — see committee members make outlandish and outrageous comments.
In two different polls conducted by, or on behalf of, The Family Foundation or other education freedom supporters over the past three years, large majorities of Virginians have indicated their support for tax credits like the one created in HB 2314.
Certain liberals like to say, “Conservatives want to take us back,” although they never specify where. Perhaps it’s more a case of liberals holding us back — or stuck in the past — with ideas no longer as effective as once were, and never moving forward with proven reforms.
Today is crossover at the General Assembly, the day when the House and Senate have to complete work on bills introduced in their respective chambers. Consequently, yesterday the House spent nearly 11 hours on the floor debating bills, with final votes taking place today. The Senate did their marathon debate and vote session today.
Several Family Foundation priorities passed the House of Delegates, some after lengthy debates took place on the proposals yesterday.
HB 1440, patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), which would provide protection (civil recourse) for the unborn in cases where they lose their life due to the negligence of another, passed 62-36 — despite the wild accusations by Delegate Vivian Watts (D-39, Fairfax), who claimed the legislation would outlaw contraception. Delegate Dave Albo (R-42, Fairfax), the chairman of the Courts of Justice Committee, which reviewed the bill, defended it on the floor. He said that he had several attorneys and committee legal counsel review the legislation and all agreed that the bill, nearly identical to a 20-year-plus Missouri law, and which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989, would not affect legal contraception in any way.
HB 2147, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge), would prevent health insurance plans in the Virginia health insurance exchange, required by ObamaCare, from providing abortion coverage. This preemptive strike against ObamaCare, should it be implemented, passed 60-36.
The House today also passed by a vote of 54-45 HB 2314, legislation patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico), that would provide a tax credit for corporate donations to private scholarship programs. This education opportunity legislation is tailored to help low-income families. It is modeled after a successful Florida scholarship program that has helped more than 20,000 students and saved the state more than $36 million in FY2008-09. (We hope you join us this Thursday for our Family Foundation Day at the Capitol and Rally, which will focus on this legislation.)
Also passing today was legislation that will create an “In God We Trust” license plate. The bill, HB 1418, is an omnibus license plate bill patroned by Delegate John O’Bannon (R-73, Richmond) that incorporates the “IGWT” plate bill introduced by Delegate Dickie Bell (R-20, Staunton). A Senate bill (SB 811), patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) creating the same license plate also passed the Senate today.
Thank you to everyone who has contacted their delegates and senators on these and other issues. After today the bills that have passed the House or Senate will “crossover” to the other chamber to go through the committee process. Please continue to respond to our action alerts (sign up here) and keep up with all the General Assembly news and video by returning to this site, and by following us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as the General Assembly session continues in the coming weeks.
In a media exclusive, we have Governor Bob McDonnell’s entire news conference on education reform from earlier today. Among those who also spoke were Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson, Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico), the patron of school choice bill HB 2314, and Delegate Algie Howell (D-90, Norfolk), one of the bill’s co-patrons.
“A child’s educational opportunities should be determined by their intellect and work ethic, not their zip code.”
Secretary Robinson: 115,000 students in seven states benefit from similar law.
Delegate Howell: “No student should be left behind because they can’t afford to attend a great school.”
At a news conference this morning, Governor Bob McDonnell (see news release) announced his support for Delegate Jimmie Massie’s (R-72, Henrico) legislation that would create education freedom in Virginia by providing tax credits for corporate donations to scholarship programs for private school enrollment. This is an issue The Family Foundation has worked on for years — to provide education freedom to Virginia families (see post about data supporting school choice).
Delegate Massie’s bill, HB 2314, is similar to programs that exist in several states, including Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida. In those states, more than 100,000 students now have educational opportunities they would not otherwise have if they remained captive to failing public schools. Each of these programs began as small efforts but, once law, became extremely successful and were expanded by decisive bipartisan majorities.
At today’s news conference, a bill co-patron, Delegate Algie Howell (D-90, Norfolk), and a member of the Legislative Black Caucus who lived through the Civil Rights Era, gave us our Quote of the Day in support of the bill:
I supported school choice before school choice supported me.
That’s a reference to Virginia’s history of segregated schools and the accompanying disparity in education between white and black students during Massive Resistance. The bill targets low income families that face especially difficult educational issues in urban schools. Delegate Howell noted his personal experience: His two grandchildren left public school to attend Saint Patrick Catholic School in Norfolk. When his son-in-law was transferred to Indiana, the children enrolled in a public school and were tested. Their scores were so far above the school district’s norms, district officials wanted to meet them.
In an effort to raise awareness to and support among lawmakers, hundreds of Virginians and students are attending Family Foundation Day at the Capitol on Thursday, February 10 (click here to register or call 804-343-0010). A coalition of groups that day will sponsor a rally for education freedom in Capitol Square (and it wouldn’t hurt to contact your delegates and senators now to raise their awareness).
This legislation will help low-income children receive the best education possible. Providing education freedom for parents and children fulfils the Commonwealth’s promise to ensure a quality education for everyone, and noted the enormous importance of this transforming issue.
As we have noted repeatedly, momentum for education freedom is growing nationwide and in Virginia because parents and families want more opportunities. The cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all education model of the past century is inadequate for today’s society. Public policies must empower families to choose the best environment that meets their children’s specific needs. For some, that will be public schools; for others it will be a quality private school.
We’ve received a few questions about yesterday’s vote in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on HB 2314, the chaplain prayer bill. The most asked question is simple: What was the actual vote on the bill? Unfortunately, because of the game played in committee, its not as simple as that. In fact, the final vote on the bill is in no way a reflection of where individual legislators actually stood on issue of chaplain prayer or religious freedom.
Essentially, an amendment to the bill (herein referred to as the “Norment Amendment“) added by the committee changed the bill from a pro-religious liberty bill to an anti-religious liberty bill. It changed the bill into what is the current state police policy that censors prayers. Because of the Norment Amendment, we wanted the bill to fail (as did the patron, Delegate Bill Carrico). However, some of the members of the committee (who support religious liberty) voted against killing the bill in hopes that they could fix it later. Thus, the final vote is very mixed and does not reflect the actual positions of legislators.
Because of the confusion over the final vote, we are counting the vote on the Norment Amendment as the actual position of legislators on the bill (shockingly, this vote is not available online). We do, however, have the entire meeting on video so we have record of that vote.
In a true “you had to be there” example, this is a debate and outcome that can be very confusing. Some legislators who voted to keep the bill alive at the end actually had ill intent for the bill, but my guess is they will attempt to hide behind that final vote. We won’t let them.
We have a small sampling of yesterday’s debate in the video below:
This morning the Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated HB 2314 patroned by Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax). This bill would have restored to the Commonwealth’s State Trooper chaplains the religious liberty right to pray according to the dictates of their conscience. This restoration of freedom is necessary after State Police Superintendent Stephen Flaherty issued an administrative order that chaplains can no longer pray “in the name of Jesus.” This decision has been strongly supported by Governor Kaine’s administration despite the pursuant resignations of six chaplains.
In a long and very contentious meeting, HB 2314 was the final bill to be heard. Testimony was offered on both sides. (Video of the debate will be available here tomorrow.) Joining The Family Foundation in speaking in support of the bill was the state Solicitor General Steve McCullough, the Rev. Sherylann Bragton of City of Love Ministries and Dr. Jack Knapp of the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists. In opposition to the bill were the ACLU, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Interfaith Center for Public Policy and a Jewish police chaplain from northern Virginia.
Opponents used their typical arguments, such as stating that in order to minister to all people one must strip any religious references out of their prayers. The police chaplain stated, “When I don my police uniform I am no longer representing my congregation as a Jewish clergy. Instead I am representing the government.”
While he may choose to leave his particular faith at the door when he ministers to others, to have the state require that one minister in this way is not acceptable. Delegate Carrico continued to remind the committee that the state police policy of censorship was issued not as the result of a single complaint of proselytizing but instead out of an ideological agenda.
Leading the charge to defeat the bill was Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). Instead of outright voting against the bill, Senator Norment chose to do something even more detrimental to the effort being waged by those who seek to uphold First Amendment freedoms — he offered amendments accepted by a majority of the committee in which he inserted “nonsectarian” before each mention of prayer in the bill. As Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) pointed out to the committee and myriad of reporters following this hearing, a plain reading of this new language indicated that the amended bill would enshrine the state superintendent’s policy into perpetuity. It was an amendment intended to kill the entire purpose of the bill.
Even after the killer amendment was accepted, the bill died by a majority vote. If you are interested to know where people really stood on this bill, those who voted against the Norment amendment actually support the religious liberty rights upon which this nation was founded: Senators Ken Cuccinelli, Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), Ryan McDougle (R-4, Hanover), Robert Hurt (R-19, Chatham) and Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville).
Despite the testimony of opponents to this legislation the facts are clear — neither the Constitution nor the Courts of the United States require or compel a faithless, non-religious, nonsectarian prayer at government events. Sadly, as is often the case for some members of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, the facts and the law are but a distasteful distraction.
Unfortunately, for six state police chaplains, this decision renders meaningless the protection of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which states:
“That all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
Recently, when the House of Delegates passed Delegate Bill Carrico’s (R-5, Galax) bill restoring the free speech and free exercise of religion rights of state police chaplains (HB 2314), the debate on the floor was fascinating. One of the best speeches in defense of the bill and of religious liberty rights was by House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8, Salem). We encourage you to see it here:
Here is our interview with Delegate Dave Marsden (D-41, Burke). We submitted the questions to him via e-mail and he replied and returned them to us within a couple of days. Here it is in its entirety — as the questions were submitted and as his answers were written — without editing.
Familyfoundationblog: Delegate Marsden, thank you for joining us for this blog interview. Contrary to what some believe, we’re all about bi-partisanship. Thanks for helping us reach out and build some bridges. More people should know we may disagree on some issues, but that both sides have a healthy respect for the opposite side’s rights and duties to represent their points of view.
Let’s get to the questions:
Familyfoundationblog: Everyone’s talking about the deficit and the budget this session. Who’s fault is it that we have this deficit? Aside from the budget, what issues will be the biggest this session and what are your expectations for this year’s session? How’s it gone so far?
Delegate Dave Marsden: We have an outdated tax system prone to significant swings. Some of the proposals for funding transportation border on the ridiculous. This session has been fine, but budget decisions will be the most important issue.
Familyfoundationblog: Every year an interesting bill, whether ridiculous or of substance, flies under the radar, gains some momentum and causes a bit of a stir. Have you seen any such bill yet? If not, what bills not on the radar do you think are worthy of more attention?
Delegate Dave Marsden: None
Familyfoundationblog: Over the last few election cycles, House Democrats have steadily increased their numbers. To what do you attribute this? What have the Democrats done right, what have the Republicans done wrong, or is it just a matter of changing demographics in Virginia, especially where you are from, in Northern Virginia?
Delegate Dave Marsden: Republicans are voting ideologically and not solving problems.
Familyfoundationblog: Many people have the wrong idea, mainly because of the media’s portrayal, but the General Assembly does about 95 percent of its work in a mostly bi-partisan manner. In the past social conservatives, moderates and liberals have worked on Pay Day Lending together and this year, even Planned Parenthood agreed with us on a bill (HB 1980, as amended, abstinence education/FLE). On what areas can conservatives, moderates and liberals work together?
Delegate Dave Marsden: My Civil Law sub-committee is the best example of non-partisan legislation I have seen, since I have been here.
Familyfoundationblog: You are on the Courts of Justice Committee and two priority Family Foundation bills will (or have) come before the committee: HB 2634 (Unborn Child Pain Information) and HB 2579 (Ultrasound Viewing Before an Abortion). Critics say these are “extreme” bills, but most people think information and making informed decisions on anything in life, especially about life and health, is good and commonsense. What are your positions on these bills and why do you support or oppose them?
Delegate Dave Marsden: I do not support these bills. People should make their decisions without external mandates from the State. Also these bills are expensive and time consuming, which leaves the question, who pays?
Familyfoundationblog: Another priority bill for us is HB 2314 (Religious Liberty for State Police Chaplains). Do you agree with the state police superintendent’s decision to not let the chaplain’s pray “In Jesus’ name”? Isn’t that their duty if they are Christian Chaplains?
Delegate Dave Marsden: We are not supposed to pray that way in the House of Delegates sessions, but we break that rule all the time.
Delegate Marsden, thank you for your time during this very busy portion of session. We hope you enjoyed the experience and will come back again.