State and National Government

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One of the General Assembly’s biggest tasks this year is to develop and approve a two-year budget — where will the money come from and how will it be spent. The process begins with a lot of predicting, with hopes it will be right, or at least very close. WFIR’s Evan Jones has the story:

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Virginia’s Secretary of Finance Aubrey Lane appeared this week before the Senate Finance Committee, where he presented his department’s best sense as to how much tax revenue Virginia can expect to come in over the next two years. Factors include things like job numbers, revenue now coming in through Internet sales taxes, and defense spending in Virginia. Lane says revenue estimates are conservative in efforts to avoid state deficits should tax collections fail to meet expectations.

Virginia House and Senate Republican leaders say they have not received any information about threats to public safety Governor Northam cited in declaring a state of emergency ahead of Monday’s gun rights rally. They ask Northam for a meeting to brief them on the information he has. The GOP has questioned whether Northam had sufficient reason – or the right – to ban guns in the capitol area for five days.

Here is the full text of their letter:

Dear Governor Northam:

We respectfully write to you today regarding your Executive Order of Wednesday, January 15, 2020, declaring a State of Emergency on and around Capitol Square.

Chapter 44-146.15 of the Code of Virginia states that the Governor does not have the “authority to in any way limit the right of the people to keep and bear arms…except to the extent
necessary to ensure public safety…in any place or facility used… as an emergency shelter or for the purpose of sheltering persons.”

Law enforcement officials have indicated they have identified “credible” threats against the events scheduled for Monday, January 20, and you have stated these as justification for your
declaration. While the safety of those on Capitol Square is paramount, the restrictions you have enacted place significant burdens on the First and Second Amendment rights of Virginians. We
have concerns about your authority for declaring this emergency.

We, as members of the General Assembly, have received none of the information you have referenced to justify these restrictions. As such, we request that your office conduct a secure briefing on the threats identified by the Virginia Fusion Center and the Unified Command for the leadership of the General Assembly at the earliest possible time. We understand the need for operational security and to protect intelligence sources and methods. As such, we would suggest this briefing be conducted in a secure location of your choosing, with only the leadership of the respective majority and minority caucuses of the General Assembly — the Speaker of the House, Majority and Minority Leaders of the House and Senate, and the Chairs of the Democratic and Republican House and Senate Caucuses. No legislative staff would be included in this briefing.

Considering the abridgment of the constitutional rights of Virginians your declaration has imposed, and because we have serious concerns about whether a governor has the authority to enact such restrictions, we believe it is imperative that leaders of the General Assembly – representing both majority and minority caucuses – are appropriately briefed as to the nature of these threats.

Time is of the essence, and we await your prompt response.

Del. Danica Roem

One Virginia delegate speaking in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment Wednesday has a background unlikely any other Virginia lawmaker — or for that matter, like any state legislator in the country. The speech was anything but common either, as WFIR’s Evan Jones reports:

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Here is a portion of floor Roem’s speech in the House of Delegates:

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Delegate Danica Roem represents a northern Virginia district with a background that includes singing in a heavy metal band, newspaper reporting and being the the first openly transgender person so serve in the General Assembly — or any state legislature. Roem used that part of her background in voicing her support for the Equal Rights Amendment; she says the ERA will protect rights of transgenders. Opponents say it opens the door to many consequences not intended or foreseen when the amendment was passed in 1972. Wherever you stand, Roem’s speech had no precedent in the House of Delegates.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia moved to the brink of becoming the crucial 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment on Wednesday, a momentous victory for many women’s rights advocates even though it is far from certain the measure will ever be added to the U.S. Constitution.

The affirmative votes in both chambers of the Virginia legislature came decades after Congress sent the ERA to the states in 1972, passing it with bipartisan support.

ERA advocates say hitting the 38 mark means the amendment will have surpassed the three-quarters of states the amendment needs to be added to the Constitution.

Opponents disagree. Court battles are expected to unfold over a long-passed 1982 ratification deadline set by Congress as well as moves by five states that ratified it in the 1970s to rescind their support.

Still, the votes in the House and Senate carried enormous symbolic weight and showed how much once solidly conservative Virginia has changed.

“We’re euphoric,” Lisa Sales, a member of the grassroots VAratifyERA group that’s worked for passage, said ahead of the vote.

The state has undergone seismic political shifts due to increasing diversity and the growing activism and political power of women. Democrats who retook control of the legislature in November’s elections made passing the ERA a top priority after Republicans blocked it for years.

The measure has passed the Virginia Senate before with bipartisan support but has never made it to the House for a floor vote. ERA supporters, some of whom have been advocates for decades, lined up hours in advance of the vote Wednesday to get a seat in the gallery.

The House vote was presided over by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, the first female House speaker in the chamber’s 400-year history.

ERA advocates say the measure would enshrine equality for women in the Constitution, offering stronger protections in sex discrimination cases. They also argue the ERA would give Congress firmer ground to pass anti-discrimination laws.

Opponents warn it would erode commonsense protections for women, such as workplace accommodations during pregnancies. They also worry it would be used by abortion-rights supporters to quash abortion restrictions on the grounds that they specifically discriminate against women.

Advocates, opponents and legal experts largely agree that with the 38th state’s ratification, lawsuits are likely to unfold. At least two have already been filed.

Last week, the Justice Department issued an opinion concluding that because the deadline has expired, the ERA is no longer legally pending before the states.

The National Archives and Records Administration, which has a ministerial role in certifying the ratification of constitutional amendments, said in a statement that it would abide by that legal opinion “unless otherwise directed by a final court order.”

Congressional Democrats are also working to pass a bill removing the deadline.

Lynchburg City Council has voted against becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary city. The 5-2 vote last night came after hundreds of people attended the meeting at EC Glass High School and voiced their opinion on the matter for more than six hours. Supporters of having Lynchburg join hundreds of other localities who have declared themselves sanctuaries for the Second Amendment say they were optimistic leaders would be on their side.

A House of Delegates committee — with its new Democratic majority — has advanced the Equal Rights Amendment. It comes from the committee that killed it last year and setting the stage for General Assembly ratification. More from WFIR’s Evan Jones:

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia moved a step closer to ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment on Tuesday, even as the measure’s future nationally remains in doubt.

A House committee approved a resolution to ratify the gender equality measure, which advocates hope will become the next amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 13-9 vote split along party lines, with all Democrats supporting it and all Republicans opposing it.

A Senate committee already advanced a similar resolution. The resolutions are now before the full House and Senate, where floor votes were expected Wednesday. Democrats control both chambers, and their legislative leaders have said their caucuses unanimously support the measure.

“Each action we take to move this resolution forward signals to the country that we’re more than ready to do our part in creating a world where women are treated as equals,” Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, a sponsor of the House resolution, said in a statement. “I was proud to introduce this resolution and I look forward to voting to pass it in the House tomorrow.”

Each chamber will then need to pass the other’s resolution before ratification becomes final.

ERA advocates say the measure will enshrine equality for women in the Constitution, offering stronger protections in sex discrimination cases. Opponents warn it will erode commonsense protections for women, such as workplace accommodations during pregnancies. They also worry it would be used by abortion-rights supporters to quash restrictions on the grounds that they specifically discriminate against women.

Final passage would make Virginia the decisive 38th state to ratify the ERA, surpassing the three-quarters of states needed to add an amendment to the Constitution.

However, court battles are expected over a long-passed 1982 deadline set by Congress, as well as other legal issues.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – The state of Virginia, as the motto says, is for lovers. So the state of West Virginia can hardly be faulted for what some might consider an indecent proposal – urging its neighbor’s northernmost county to
switch states. The West Virginia Senate voted Monday to extend this invitation to Virginia’s Frederick County. West Virginia’s House votes next. The proposed hookup comes despite a long ago breakup: 158 years ago, West Virginia split from Virginia during the Civil War. Senator Charles Trump says Frederick County never voted on whether to join the Union. Despite all this, one Frederick official says the county … just isn’t into its neighbor.

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